KLWines.com November 2012 800.247.5987
Single Malt Whisky Special Report
2012 SINGLE MALT EXCLUSIVES Perusing the whisky selection at K&L these days can be a bit overwhelming if you’re new to whisky. There are so many different
choices from so many distilleries that it’s hard to know what to drink. At times it can seem easier to just grab that familiar bottle of Macallan and call it a day. However, there are so many expressions of whisky available that we decided to create this brochure to not only tell you why our selections are so special, but to help you make confident and educated whisky-buying decisions based on your personal preferences. It’s really not all that complicated, but there is a huge difference between the whiskies that we select for K&L and the basic expressions you can find at most retail stores around the world. For example, when you buy a bottle of Macallan 18 from the liquor store, you’re not purchasing one specific whisky that’s 18 years old. Macallan 18 is really numerous casks of whisky, all slightly different in flavor, that have been married together into a cuvée. Producers do this because each barrel of whisky is completely unique from the next. If you had 300 barrels of Macallan 18-year-old whisky they would all taste slightly different from one another. And those in the business of selling a brand around the world can’t sell a product that tastes different from one bottle to the next. There needs to be a consistent flavor that customers can depend on. That’s why producers marry casks together to create a “house style.” An age statement like “18 Year” indicates only the age of the youngest whisky in the blend. Macallan might add some 19-, 20- or 21-year-old whisky into their vat of Macallan 18, but they can only list the age of the youngest whisky used.
Crafting a house style for a whisky brand is like mixing a cocktail. Take a few casks of bourbon-aged malt, mix in some first-fill sherry barrels, then add a few mature fourth-fill casks for extra malt flavor. That’s the job of a master blender. When we travel to Scotland each spring, however, we aren’t looking for whisky that represents a house style. If consumers simply want Glenlivet, we’ve got them covered. But wouldn’t it be cool to try 15-year-old Glenlivet from a fresh sherry cask at full proof? We think so. Our goal is to supplement the everyday with the extraordinary. That’s why we spend two weeks driving around Scotland, punishing our palates with high-proof booze. We’re hunting single barrels of single malt whisky that are undiluted, out of the ordinary, single barrel jewels. Single Malts Versus Blends
What exactly is single malt, you ask? Simply put, a single malt whisky is whisky made in batches from 100% malted barley distilled on a pot still. It must be made at one distillery only. Blended whiskies like Johnnie Walker or Chivas, by comparison, are made from both single malt whisky and grain whisky, so they’re blends of two different types of whisky. Grain whisky is made from unmalted grain produced on high-volume column stills. It’s inexpensive to make, rather herbaceous before cask-aging, and far less supple than the typical single malt. (Grain whiskies on their own can be quite spectacular at times, but their main purpose is to stretch the more powerful flavors of single malt whisky into a less-expensive product that can be produced on a large scale.)
Left: Cutting peat moss at Lagavulin. Right: Rachel Barrie, master distiller at Morrison Bowmore, with a slew of whisky samples for us to taste.
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Whisky and the Single Barrel
Many of the exclusive single malt whiskies found at K&L are from single barrels or “casks.” There’s nothing inherently better about a single cask of whisky, though there are special flavors that come through more intensely or more concentrated when left on their own, without the dilution from other barrels of whisky. What’s different about a single cask of whisky is that it isn’t always polished. It isn’t streamlined or consistent with other products from that distillery. Finding a great barrel of single malt can be like finding a diamond in the rough—a special whisky that shines on its own. While Scotch whisky is rarely aged in new barrels, various types of casks can be used to mature single malt spirit. Since Bourbon producers must use new wood every time, their leftover barrels are often shipped over the Atlantic to Scottish producers who fill them with single malt. Sherry producers have also found a market for their used barrels. The sweet residue still fresh inside the wood provides extra color and richness to the whisky being aged within it. Port, Sauternes and rum casks are also used to help add additional flavor. These barrels are often used more than once, so a first-fill sherry barrel will shape the whisky much differently than a third- or fourth-fill sherry barrel will. The more times the cask has been used, the less intense the influence of the wood flavor will be. This is often a good thing when producers want to age their whisky long term, as in 20 to 30 years. Thirty years in a fresh sherry barrel would often result in a whisky that tastes only of sherry and nothing of single malt. Cask Strength
You’ll often hear differing opinions about how to consume whisky. Some people add an ice cube, and some people add water. Others don’t want anything to dilute the pure flavor of the malt. What many don’t know is that most producers add water for you. When whisky comes out of the barrel it’s usually much higher than 100 proof. Many whiskies are nearly 57% to 60% alcohol taken straight from the barrel, yet they’re bottled at 43% or 46% because it’s easier to drink whisky after it’s been “proofed down.” That means you’re drinking whisky with water in it. What we’ve found, however, is that some of our customers like their single malts hot and spicy, while others enjoy them with smooth and supple textures. When a whisky is bottled at full proof or “cask strength,” it provides the consumer with the option to drink it however they prefer. It’s usually more expensive, but it gives the drinker the power to experiment with how a whisky tastes best to them. K&L’s Single Barrel Program
When we purchase barrels, whether they’re proofed down or cask strength, most often we buy them from an independent bottler. This process can be confusing at times, but it boils down to supply and demand. When the whisky industry is hot, distilleries usually need every drop of single malt for themselves. When the market is down, there’s usually a surplus and companies will look to shed some of the extra fat.
Just like the wine industry, the whisky business began with middlemen who worked as intermediaries between the distiller and the consumer. These middlemen would usually blend the whiskies into a special formula, slap a brand name on it and peddle it around the marketplace. Sometimes they would sell it under the name of the distillery itself. Today there are numerous independent companies who purchase extra whisky from distillers to supply their own brands. Some of these companies, such as Sovereign, Signatory and Chieftain’s, also include the name of the distillery on the bottle. That’s why, when perusing the selection of Laphroaig single malt at K&L, for example, you’ll find whiskies that are made at Laphroaig and bottled by Laphroaig (usually cuvées, like we talked about before), in addition to single barrels of Laphroaig bottled by one of these independent companies. Why don’t we buy straight from the distillery? Most distilleries in Scotland are no longer owned by families but rather large, global corporations that are not interested in selling a single cask of whisky to a small retailer in California. If they do it for us, they’ll have to do it for every other retailer, and there’s little time for catering to the niche market in the world of global economics. For this reason, we often rely on these smaller independent bottlers to function as our intermediary. Plus, there’s nothing more fun than perusing the warehouse of an independent bottler. Signatory, for example, has a vast and eclectic selection of casks from numerous distilleries at various ages. Some of their barrels date back to the 1960s, and a few of them contain whisky from distilleries no longer in operation. Port Ellen Distillery, for example, was dismantled in the early 1980s, but its whisky continues to live on, aging gracefully inside the few casks that still remain scattered across various warehouses in Scotland. Smaller, independently-owned distilleries are also a source of great whisky. Kilchoman, BenRiach, GlenDronach and Springbank are all examples of boutique whisky distillers that are happy to work closely with small retailers like us. In addition to our visits to independent bottlers, we continue to source single barrels directly from the distillery when available. Getting whisky distillery-direct usually means there are more casks to choose from of various ages and styles. So that’s it. You’re now officially an expert on single malt whisky. All there is left to do now is taste it! While we personally subscribe to the philosophy that flavor trumps all when evaluating the quality of a single malt whisky, we’re also big believers in the idea that the story makes it all more interesting. So we’ve compiled a list of producers, distilleries and whiskies that we’ll be bringing in this season, along with a brief description of what makes them so special. We hope you enjoy reading about them as much as we love drinking them! David Driscoll and David Othenin-Girard
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BARREL For all the talk you’ll hear about distillation methods—barley, peat, water and fermentation—the biggest influence upon a whisky’s flavor is, ultimately, the barrel in which it is aged. Maturation is by far the most misunderstood part of whisky production, and sometimes a single malt will go through a variety of different casks before it makes its way to the bottle. Rarely will a label tell you exactly what type of barrel was used; most often you just have to guess from the color or the flavor. We’ve done our best to indicate which type of barrel was used in the aging process on all of our single barrel expressions. (However, we don’t always know how many times the barrel was used previously, because not only is the type of wood important, but also the amount of times the cask was used.) A firstfill sherry barrel will result in a much sweeter whisky than, say, a third- or fourth-fill barrel. Sometimes whiskies are matured in one type of barrel, but then “finished” in a different type of cask. We sometimes call this ACEing (additional cask enhancement). A single malt might begin in an ex-bourbon cask, but spend its last year inside a sticky Sauternes barrel. There are so many permutations; it’s crazy!
their first usage. That makes the barrel trade between Kentucky and Scotland very advantageous to both sides. The Americans get a return on their cooperage and the Scots get a consistent source of fresh wood. Bourbon casks (sometimes referred to as American oak) are much milder in their inflection, usually transferring vanilla and spice flavors to the single malt. Many people prefer bourbon maturation because it doesn’t overwhelm the inherent flavor of whisky the way sherry sometimes can.
Here’s a breakdown of the possibilities:
Wine Cask: While you usually don’t see a single malt go into fresh wine casks on day one, old Bordeaux, Sauternes, Madeira and Port barrels are a fun way to impart a bit of fruit flavor or honeyed richness into a whisky during a brief maturation. Our 14-year-old Springbank cask from last year’s trip is a great example of what Madeira aging can do.
Sherry Cask: One of the most popular casks for maturation is a used sherry barrel. Sherry, the famous fortified wine of Jerez, Spain, has long been sending its extra cooperage north for Scottish distilleries to fill with fresh whisky. There are various sweetness levels to sherry—amontillado, oloroso, Pedro Ximenez, etc.—so the sweeter the sherry residue inside the wood, the sweeter the whisky aged inside of it will become. Macallan Distillery, for example, is famous for using oloroso sherry casks, whereas our 27-year-old BenRiach cask spent its last five years in a Pedro Ximenez barrel, the sweetest of all sherries! We’ve even seen dry fino sherry barrels used to age whisky, resulting in a nutty, oxidized flavor. So many delicious possibilities from this one type of cask. Bourbon Cask: Because American Bourbon distilleries must, by law, age their whiskey in brand new, charred oak barrels, they’re discarded after
Kilchoman Distillery, Islay Established 2005
One of the most controversial subjects in the whisky world today is the role of smaller, “craft” distilleries, which are releasing young whiskies at high prices. The rationale behind the higher price tag is that the whiskies are made from better quality ingredients using a more hands-on approach and small-batch distillation. The Kilchoman whiskies, for example, are delicious, complex and exciting despite their youth or perceived immaturity, earning their higher price tag in our opinion. The purity of flavor in Kilchoman’s whiskies—the smoky, peaty spiciness that dominates them—is perhaps unparalleled by any other Islay distillery, at least when tasting the single malt right off the still. As a tiny operation, Kilchoman is producing two different formulae at an extremely high level of quality—one from barley malted at nearby Port Ellen, and another distilled from 100% Islay barley grown at the farm immediately next door to the distillery. The latter is malted the old-fashioned way, spread out over the concrete floor of the distillery barn and raked until it’s ready to be dried in the kiln over a smoldering peat fire. Because Kilchoman is an independently-owned distillery still looking to grow its consumer base, they’re more than happy to team up with a small
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Hogshead Cask: Most commonly, when a single barrel whisky label doesn’t specify the type of wood, it will use the term “hogshead,” which actually refers to a volume size rather than a wood type. Hogsheads are almost always old bourbon or sherry casks that have been taken apart and re-coopered into 63-gallon barrels. (Bourbon casks are usually about 53 gallons to start, and sherry butts come in at a whopping 126 gallons.) When we use the term “hogshead,” it could be wood from either type of oak (American bourbon oak or European sherry oak), and it could have been used any number of times. All we know for sure is the size.
After tasting through whiskies that have undergone the various types of barrel maturation and their resulting flavors, you might find a particular style that works for you. People who want richer, sweeter, fuller flavors tend to enjoy sherry-aged whiskies. Those looking for spice, nuance and the flavors of the malt itself usually prefer bourbon-aged whiskies. Lighter, less-woody flavors are usually found in hogshead-aged single malts. Remember that distillery-branded bottles are usually marriages of many different types of barrels, incorporating some sherry and some bourbon barrels into a magic formula that works for them.
retailer like K&L, especially since we’re so passionate about their product. Distillery manager John MacLellan took us to their on-site barrel room to taste and select single cask whiskies straight from the source. Kilchoman “K&L Exclusive” Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($109.99) This malt is loaded with fresh earth, chewy oils, petrol and peat smoke, mossy dried grass and a maritime sea air note that really hangs on the finish. It’s a beast of a whisky, showcasing everything we love about both Kilchoman and sherry-aged Islay whisky. Of all the Kilchoman whiskies we’ve tasted, this one by far had the most maturity and was precocious beyond its five years. Kilchoman “K&L Exclusive” 100% Islay Single Sherry Barrel Finish Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($119.99) We had heard rumors that Kilchoman was sitting on a small batch of sherry-finished 100% Islay single malt, but we didn’t know if they would have enough to sell us our own cask. The spice on Kilchoman’s all-Islay whisky is totally different from the standard make—think blanco tequila meets smoky mezcal, with lots of citrus. When you add a sherry barrel to that equation the spice turns to cinnamon red hots, the fruit tropical and hedonistic, the peat to a sweet and vibrant tang. At cask strength, the malt overwhelms the palate, almost like a giant party in your mouth.
Single Malt Scotch
Left: The malting floor at Kilchoman, where the barley rests before it’s dried and peated in the kiln. Right: The Bruichladdich Distillery on Islay.
“We think our Springbank matured in a Madeira cask is one of the most overlooked whiskies in the store, especially considering it’s from what might be the world’s greatest distillery.” Bruichladdich Distillery, Islay Established 1881
Bruichladdich (pronounced brookLaddie) helped ring in the single malt revolution at K&L, and K&L helped bring the world’s attention to what we felt was one of the most exciting independent producers in all of Scotland. In 2001, a group of investors purchased the dormant distillery on Islay and lured master distiller Jim McEwan away from Bowmore to an entirely new adventure. Armed with a keen sense of fashion, pop culture and creativity, the new whiskies from Bruichladdich were exciting and fresh. Their very first release was bottled exclusively for K&L in 2007 and was finished in a Ridge Zinfandel cask. Ten years after the rebirth of Bruichladdich the relationship is still strong, and we’re still bringing in new barrels for the loyal Bruichladdich customer. The “Laddie” is one of the few distilleries on Islay that makes both peated and unpeated single malt whisky. Last year we purchased an esoteric, Chenin Blanc-finished single malt that didn’t quite go as planned. As a make-good for all the years of business together, Bruichladdich has agreed to release us a special, peated single malt cask that was originally reserved for a future Port Charlotte project. 2003 Bruichladdich Peated Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (Inquire) In the midst of purchasing our most recent cask of single malt from Bruichladdich, the distillery was sold to the Cognac stalwart Rémy-Martin. This threw our plans for a loop, but we’ve managed to keep the project alive. While we still don’t have a finalized price as of publishing time, we expect to see this whisky sometime before the year’s end. Bright flavors of fresh peat moss, black pepper, brine and smoke flood the initial sip and send the palate into a frenzy. The finish shows stone fruit and hints of vanilla. This was originally slated for Bruichladdich’s 3D3 Peated Malt, then it wound up as part of the Port Charlotte project before we managed to take it for K&L as a replacement for last year’s mishap. This should be a real fan favorite when it gets here!
Springbank Distillery, Campbeltown Established 1828
Due to a global whisky shortage and the lack of suitable candidates, we weren’t able to bring in a cask of whisky this year from our beloved Springbank, but we still have a good supply of our 14-year-old Madeira cask-matured whisky from last year’s trip, so it’s worth covering. We think it is one of the most overlooked whiskies in the store, especially considering it’s from what might be the world’s greatest distillery. Springbank is in downtown Campbeltown, on the tip of the Kintyre Peninsula that descends from Scotland’s southwestern coast. It is still family-owned, still malting its own barley and still making whisky the oldfashioned way. It’s the only self-sufficient distillery left in Scotland and functions like a working museum—full of all old, hand-cranked mechanisms, no computers anywhere. Consistent flavor is not the distillery’s strongest suit. However, consistent greatness is. Once the crown jewel in the center of Scotland’s whisky industry, Springbank is now all that remains of Campbeltown since the Pattison crash bankrupted the industry at the turn of the 20th century (a meltdown not unlike our own mortgage crisis here at home). Considered a region unto itself, Campbeltown incorporates a bit of everything—the sherry aging of Speyside, the peat of Islay, the fruitiness of the Lowlands and the graininess of the Highlands. 1997 Springbank 14 Year Old “K&L Exclusive” Madeira Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($99.99) On our 2011 visit to Springbank, we knew we wanted to purchase a single bourbon cask, but we were open to other options were we to find another very special barrel. Of course, that’s exactly what happened. One of the most beloved whiskies in K&L customer history was a 2000 Springbank that was finished in Château d’Yquem barrels, giving a sweet highlight to the chewy textures of the malt. This 1997 Madeira barrel-aged whisky is bottled at cask strength, and is the more muscular, more mature cousin of that lovely 2000. Golden fruits, a rich, oily mouthfeel and a long, supple finish all merge together and make this one of the easiest drams to drink that we’ve tasted in some time. We can’t imagine anyone not loving this, so we decided to go deep and buy the whole cask. Like the 2000, we expect people to talk about this whisky for some time to come.
Single Malt Scotch
Peat being shoveled into the kiln at Laphroaig; this adds the characteristic smoky flavor to the barley.
Chieftain’s/Ian McCleod Distillers Ltd. The Chieftain’s warehouse, located right outside of Edinburgh, is generally the first stop on our trip to Scotland. Part of Ian McCleod Distillers Ltd., who also make Smokehead single malt and the Isle of Skye blended whiskies, Chieftain’s benefits from a working relationship with other producers because they own both the Glengoyne and Tamdhu distilleries. Controlling part of their own production gives them whisky to trade with, allowing the acquisition of casks from Diageo and other large whisky-producing corporations. We usually have plenty of Chieftain’s selections in the store, many that are not exclusive to K&L. They have a tremendous reputation for quality, and we rarely find any clunkers in their portfolio. On this year’s visit we found a lovely mature cask from the famed Laphroaig distillery, makers of one of the most coveted single malts in the world. Laphroaig Distillery, Islay Established 1810
One of the most storied distilleries in all of Scotland, Laphroaig has set the bar for peated, smoky, medicinal-flavored whisky since its creation in 1810. Located on the southern coast of Islay, Laphroaig is a neighbor to the former Port Ellen Distillery, as well as Lagavulin and Ardbeg. Laphroaig’s special combination of sea and smoke has had a magical effect on whisky drinkers over the years. In 1908, manager Ian Hunter decided to make Laphroaig one of the first distilleries to market itself as a single malt (rather than sell it off to blending companies like most producers did). During American Prohibition, Laphroaig managed to convince the U.S. government to allow its whisky into the country for medicinal purposes. Because of its phenolic, medicinal aromas, federal officials took the distillery’s word for it, and the whisky was the only Scotch allowed into the U.S. for more than 10 years. Laphroaig was one of the first distilleries to have a female manager (Bessie Williamson), and
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they’re one of the few today that still malts their own barley. Despite their history of forward-thinking progress, they continue to operate very traditionally, making only one type of spirit and filling it into only one kind of barrel: first-fill bourbon casks every time. Laphroaig is considered a “peated” whisky because the barley is dried over a fire of dried peat moss, covering the grain in phenols and giving the eventual distillate its hallmark smoky, medicinal flavor. 1994 Laphroaig 18 Year Old “K&L Exclusive” Chieftain’s Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($139.99) Our 18-year-old single cask was aged in a hogshead barrel (a bourbon cask re-coopered into a larger size). As smoky single malt matures, the peat flavors tend to take more of a back seat to the richness derived from cask aging. This beauty has everything we love about mature Laphroaig: medicinal notes, brine and campfire smoke, mixing brilliantly with soft vanilla and wood spice. It’s classic in every way, and it’s full proof. A fantastic whisky from an iconic distillery’s older stock.
Sovereign/Douglas Laing & Co. Last year’s trip to Scotland took us to the Glasgow office of Stewart and Fred Laing, two brothers who took over the independent bottling business from their father, Douglas, who founded the company in 1948. The Laings have tremendously deep stocks of single malt whisky aging all over Scotland. Many independent bottlers, such as the Laings, that have old relationships with distilleries will actually leave their barrels on-site to age, arranging for their transport only when they feel the whisky is ready for bottling. Douglas Laing & Co. has numerous labels they use for their single malt expressions, but they’ve offered K&L a U.S. exclusive under the Sovereign banner, a privilege we’re all too honored to have. After the amazing whiskies we found in 2011, we couldn’t wait to return to Glasgow and strike another deal with our favorite Scottish brothers.
Single Malt Scotch
The copper stills at Caol Ila on Islay, overlooking Port Askaig.
Linkwood Distillery, Speyside Established 1821
Caol Ila Distillery, Islay Established 1846
Another member of the Diageo family, Linkwood has always been a workhorse distillery for the company’s famous blended whiskies, including Johnnie Walker and White Horse. Very little of Linkwood’s whisky is ever bottled and released as single malt. Because of the growing demand for Johnnie Walker, the pressure to expand the distillery increased over the years, forcing Diageo to create a second still house with four stills that are sometimes referred to as Linkwood B. The original stills have not been used since 1996. The character of the whisky is always light and fruity, with richer subtleties showing up depending on the age of the malt or the cask being used. Linkwood has always enjoyed a strong reputation for quality whisky among passionate single malt drinkers, which has kept us on the hunt for its whisky while searching through casks at bottlers’ various warehouses.
Located at Port Askaig on the northeastern coast of Islay, just across the Sound of Islay from the brooding mountains of Jura, Caol Ila is by far the largest distillery on the island. Owned by whisky powerhouse Diageo, the distillery’s whisky provides the smoky backbone for many of the company’s blended whiskies, including Johnnie Walker Black. Eight massive stills pump out peated single malt at an alarming speed, yet the whisky is almost always balanced and deliciously drinkable. The stills’ wide necks create a fruity, round spirit with a softer mouthfeel. Our visit to Caol Ila this year was one of the most surprising stops on our journey. We were ready for a giant whisky factory, but instead discovered an efficient and friendly producer of top quality single malt. Few distillerydirect Caol Ila whiskies older than 12 years old make it to the U.S., so we knew exactly what we were looking for.
“Douglas Laing & Co. has numerous labels they use for their single malt expressions, but they’ve offered K&L a U.S. exclusive under the Sovereign banner, a privilege we’re all too honored to have.”
1996 Caol Ila 15 Year Old “K&L Exclusive” Sovereign Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($119.99) This 15-year-old cask had exactly what we wanted: soft, supple textures, youthful campfire smoke, brandied fruit on the palate, with vanilla accents to smooth out the finish. At 56% ABV cask strength, the high proof provides the power that some Islay drinkers covet; however, a few drops of water mellow the vigor and showcase a whisky with tremendous balance between smoke and fruit.
1991 Linkwood 21 Year Old “K&L Exclusive” Sovereign Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($135.99) Our friends at Sovereign dug deep into their inventory and surfaced with exactly what we desired: unsherried Linkwood with more than two decades in barrel. The flavors are graceful, playful and light, with notes of stone fruit alongside vanilla from the wood acting as a backbone. Because it’s bottled at cask strength, water is key to toning down the proof and releasing the oils for more flavor. A few drops help to balance the power and bring out notes of baking spice, resinous oils and more richness from the wood.
Caperdonich Distillery, Speyside Established 1897, Closed 2002 (Demolished 2010)
The history of Caperdonich Distillery is a tumultuous one. Formerly known as Glen Grant #2, Caperdonich was built in 1897 by J & J Grant, who also established the original Glen Grant distillery in 1840. It was closed in 1902, only 15 years later, during the Pattison speculation crisis that bankrupted numerous whisky producers at the turn of the century. It
Single Malt Scotch ISLAY Islay is one of those places that never really seems real, even if you’ve been there several times. Its very landscape seems fantastical. Known as the Queen of the Hebrides, Islay’s rich soils, clean water and temperate climate (relative to the rest of Scotland) have sustained the island’s whisky industry over the last several hundred years, which seems unfathomable given the island’s small population. But after all, distillation is simply a method for converting grain into a product with extreme stability over the long term. We could call it the barley farmers’ piggy bank. During the whisky boom of the late-19th century, Islay played second fiddle to Campbeltown. Now, this small island is host to eight distilleries and countless closed and abandoned operations. Generally known for producing rich, peated whisky, Islay’s distilleries actually make an incredibly diverse set of malts, even among the smokier offerings. We’ve brought many back with us this year, from the smokiest Laphroaig to the elegant Bunnahahbain to the extremely rare Port Ellen.
THE HIGHLANDS AND SPEYSIDE Of the five official Scotch regions, Speyside and the Highlands are by far the most complex and diverse. The Highlands stretch from just north of Edinburgh to the tip of mainland Scotland (officially including the Scottish Isles, save Islay, but we prefer to think of them separately). It has one of the highest concentrations of distilleries per capita of anywhere in the world. Speyside is a tiny geographical sub-division of the Highlands that used to be called the “Glenlivet Region.” When the actual Glenlivet Distillery gained international fame, putting the word Glenlivet (as in Glenlivet-Longmorn or Glenlivet-Glenfarclas) on whisky from other distilleries became too confusing. The name was changed to Speyside, referring to the river Spey that runs through the area. It is home to two of the world’s most popular single malts, the aforementioned Glenlivet, and Glenfiddich, and it is the most acclaimed and distinguished of Scotland’s whiskymaking regions. We feel the ultimate flavor of a single malt has much more to do with choices made in the distillery and the warehouses than some magical influence from the land, and there is no rule that any distillery from a partiuclar region has to make whisky in a particular style. It is especially hard to generalize about Speyside and Highland whiskies because there are so many distilleries producing so many different expressions, and the truth is that both regions today are more defined by simple geography than stylistic differences. So while some experts attempt to pigeonhole Highland whiskies as being light and heathery and Speyside whiskies as sherry-matured and supple, Highland whiskiescan be big and quite bold. They can be smoky, rich and oily, or full of fresh cereal, bright fruit and spice. Northern Highland whiskies are usually rich and complex, often with some extra sherry maturation like we see in Dalmore and Glenmorangie, but they can be more subtle and ethereal like Clynelish, which tends toward waxy pomme fruit. In the east, fruity, earthy and spicy whiskies like Glen Garioch (older versions can be smoky) and GlenDronach dominate, although Ardmore makes one of the Highlands’ smokiest whiskies. The western Highlands has few distillers, but they tend to make subtly smoky, ocean-influenced or earthy malts, like Oban or Dalwhinnie. To the south, a lighter fresh and fruity style is typical, but not a guarantee. Look for Aberfeldy and Edradour or find a Glen Goyne if you want something a little more powerful. Technically the Islands are categorized by the Scotch Whisky Association as part of the Highlands too. These tend to be powerful, bold, ocean-influenced, smoky whiskies like Talisker and Highland Park.
THE LOWLANDS We hear very little about Lowland whisky today, mostly because there are only three operating distilleries left in the region: Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie and Bladnoch. There were others, of course, and they were quite highly-regarded. Ladyburn Distillery, for example, operated only briefly, between 1966 and 1975, inside of Girvan Distillery. The cask of 1974 Ladyburn that we secured last year was perhaps the most widely-acclaimed cask we’d ever acquired. We also took a cask of straight grain whisky from Girvan to pair with it, a 20-year-old barrel that took people by surprise with its rich, vanillin drinkability. Another barrel of 18-year-old single malt from the tiny Bladnoch Distillery turned out to be the sleeper hit of the 2011 campaign, with jellybean fruit flavors and creamy vanilla. A cask of 1990 Littlemill bottled under our Faultline label was fruity, yet oily and resinous, with earthy hints that showed the complexity of the Lowland style. What is the Lowland style? It usually refers to a light, elegant, easy-to-drink whisky, much in the style of Irish brands like Jameson or Bushmill’s. Only two Lowland whiskies are available in the U.S. with any regularity—Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie—and both are very mild malts. What we learned from our trip in 2011, however, is that the whiskies of the Lowlands are absolutely stunning when left to mature for a few decades. Their light and fruity style is easily influenced by the flavors of the cask and can go off in many different directions. While last year’s voyage resulted in four different Lowland expressions, this year’s trip was void of any real candidates. We’ll continue to keep our eyes peeled in the future, however, with the knowledge we learned from those four amazing whiskies.
CAMPBELTOWN It’s hard to believe that the quiet hamlet of Campbeltown, located at the end of Scotland’s southern Kintyre Peninsula, was once called the “whisky capital of the world.” These days the streets are empty, unemployment is high, and the town is struggling to remain relevant in an ever-expanding whisky market. Toward the end of the 1800s there were 34 working distilleries in Campbeltown. Today there are two main producers: Springbank and Glenscotia. (A third, Glengyle, is really just an extra still next door to and operated by Springbank. It was refurbished and reopened in 2004 as part of an agreement with the Scotch Whisky Association to help Campbeltown maintain its historic status as one of Scotland’s five whisky-making regions.) Part of Campbeltown’s past success was geographical—its easy-to-access, sheltered port allowed for easy trade with the Irish and English. As the whisky trade strengthened and grew, Campbeltown boomed. At the beginning of the 20th century, however, the city began to acquire a reputation for quantity over quality, and customers began to look elsewhere. A growing preference for Speyside and Islay whiskies, coupled with the Pattison whisky speculation crisis, took the market out from under Campbeltown’s feet. When the Depression hit the United States, followed by Prohibition, Campbeltown lost one of its major export markets and the bottom really began to drop out after that. 8 You can order direct from our website at KLWines.com
Single Malt Scotch
Left: In the dimly-lit barrel room at Glenfarclas. Right: Glenfarclas Distillery in Speyside.
wasn’t until 1965 that new owners, Glenlivet, resumed production and changed the name to Caperdonich (two distilleries could no longer have the same name, much like Clynelish #1 changed its name to Brora). The distillery ran until 2002 when it was mothballed again and eventually demolished in 2010. In recent years, Caperdonich has begun to accumulate a small cult following of single malt fans looking to collect what little whisky remains. 1994 Caperdonich 18 Year Old “K&L Exclusive” Sovereign Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($125.99) Caperdonich has a distinct and understated character that doesn’t jump out of the glass immediately. It needs to be coaxed out. Our single barrel of 18-year-old malt is a tease at first—hinting at supple fruit on the nose, yet lithely avoiding any serious concentration on the palate. Water is a must with this cask strength whisky in order to temper the heat and bring out the nuance. With the alcohol in check comes the classic character of the distillery: notes of grass, hay, pepper and stone fruit. It’s a keenly interesting whisky that offers a chance at understanding one of Scotland’s fallen soldiers. Glenfarclas Distillery, Speyside Established 1836
Turning off the main road toward Glenfarclas is one of those “hold your breath” moments. Nestled behind an outcropping of trees, down a long, one-lane road, the distillery sits as it would have nearly 200 years ago, a mysterious grouping of structures in a valley. Looming in the background is the mountain Ben Rinnes. But Glenfarclas is special for more than its stunning location. One of the last family distilleries in Scotland, it is owned by the Grants, who have been involved in its operations since at least 1865. These days the distillery is a shiny beacon of hope for lovers of great, affordable whisky, a rarity in these times. The Grants are committed to releasing high quality whisky without all the frills like crystal decanters, at prices affordable to most single malt aficionados. While certainly not cheap, their 25-year and 40-year-old malts cost a fraction of their rivals’ whiskies, and they often blow the others out of the water in terms of quality. One of Speyside’s most classic sherried malts,
you’ll only see that regional designation in small print below where it says “Single Highland Malt.” The Grant family is also notably averse to their distillery’s name being used on independent bottlings, which has resulted in some litigation and some very creative naming choices by various bottlers. So, if you ever see a bottle labeled, “Possibly Speyside’s Finest Malt Whisky,” it’s probably Glenfarclas, and it’s probably true. 1970 Glenfarclas “K&L Exclusive” Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($599.99) What we have here is a prime example of how the robust Glenfarclas spirit stands up to a powerfully active first-fill sherry cask for more than 40 years. We probably tasted through 50-plus casks on our day-long visit with George Grant, and this one was our hands-down favorite. Set aside long ago for a Japanese client who never followed through, it has been sitting in the warmest part of the Glenfarclas warehouses for the last several years. Amazingly concentrated and powerful, this phenomenal liquid rivals malts at several times its price for quality and complexity. If this were Dalmore, they’d be selling it for $25,000. 1979 Glenfarclas “K&L Exclusive” Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($299.99) One thing we’ve learned about single malt on our journeys is the importance of vintage. While the actual growing season for barley doesn’t generally effect the ultimate product, the season’s selection of casks absolutely does. Some larger distilleries may have access to multiple cask sources in a vintage, and certainly many today seek out different casks types to achieve the “recipe” they’re looking for. Glenfarclas, at least back in the day, sourced what they could. In 1979, the only casks available were fourth-fill sherry butts. While the ultimate product is atypical of the standard Glenfarclas profile, the juice is some of the most wildly delicious we’ve ever tasted. Some of the ’79s are a bit awkward and austere. Not this. When we tasted this cask we knew we couldn’t let it get lost in a house blend. Instead of dense dried fruit and nutty sherry aromas, you’ll find juicy exotic fruits (passion, lychee, dragon), sultanas, spice and a fabulous velvety texture. Truly an anomaly, and truly a classic.
Single Malt Scotch
Left: The Glen Garioch Distillery in the hamlet of Old Meldrum. Right: The GlenDronach Distillery in Aberdeenshire.
Glen Garioch Distillery, Highlands Established 1797
GlenDronach Distillery, Highlands Established 1826
Another historic and underappreciated distillery, this one in the quaint hamlet of Old Meldrum, Glen Garioch is often considered one of the old greats, but today it flies mostly under the radar. The Japanese company Suntory acquired Glen Garioch (pronounced: glen GEErie) in the early 1980s. It peat-malted its own barley until it closed in 1994. That means that if you find older Glen Garioach (particularly those distilled before the Suntory acquisition), they are very likely to be quite smoky. When the distillery reopened in 1997, they began using air-dried malt from around Scotland. Nose Garioch and you’re instantly transported to the gorgeous eastern Highlands, which produce most of Scotland’s barley. This whisky captures that sense of place better than most. Thanks to our good name and standing, we were selected as one of the lucky few to get access to the Glen Garioch Single Barrel program as an exclusive.
Most of our in-store customers know the story of how GlenDronach and K&L joined forces. The short version is this: We needed a place to stay in the Highlands on our first trip to Scotland in 2011. GlenDronach had a guesthouse for us to use. We hesitated because we initially had little interest in their whisky, but we acquiesced because we needed shelter. In our room the first night was a bottle of GlenDronach 12 Year that was so good it caused us to call our American distributor right then and there to place an order. Over the past year that whisky has become one of the most popular single malts we sell, and the cask we ended up purchasing, a 16-year-old version at full proof, was perhaps the most beloved whisky we brought back in 2011. Boy, were we embarrassed!
“In our room the first night was a bottle of GlenDronach 12 Year that was so good it caused us to call our American distributor right then and there to place an order.” 1998 Glen Garioch “K&L Exclusive” Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($99.99) We had the incredible pleasure of selecting this whisky alongside the authoritative and respected master blender Rachel Barrie of Morrison Bowmore. While this whisky is notable in that it falls slightly outside the current distillery profile, it reminded us of the pre-closure whiskies from here more than any other. We waxed poetic about what wonderful peated single malt might have been in the barrel on its first fill. While the whisky is not peated, it is certainly phenolic as can be. Spicy aromas and a malty base are interlaced with sweet citrus and subtle floral notes. While the first nosing is strikingly “smoky,” the addition of water brings out those Highland flavors. We’re certain this will be the sleeper hit of this whisky season, but we only received 13 cases from this tiny cask. 10 Check out our staff product reviews at KLWines.com
Located in an isolated portion of the Aberdeenshire, amid rolling green hills and sinister shadows, GlenDronach is churning out sherry-aged single malt that simply destroys many of its competitors. Macallan fans have been crossing over in droves for the past year while GlenDronach’s status as a cult distillery has continued to grow. The whisky used to be the basis of Teacher’s Blended Scotch until the distillery was mothballed in 1996. It reopened in 2005 under Pernod-Ricard, but only three years later they sold it off to the BenRiach Group. The turnaround since then has been amazing. GlenDronach has gone from a completely unknown distillery to the makers of one of the most successful single malts in K&L history. As a follow up to last year’s cask, we’ve acquired an older, even richer one that should please many of our passionate whisky customers. 1993 GlenDronach 19 Year Old “K&L Exclusive” Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($129.99) This 19-year-old selection smells of Armagnac and rich caramel, with roasted fruits and big sherry aromas. The palate is soft, integrated and very smooth, even at full proof. The richness is powerful, but unlike some of their older selections, it is completely in check and balanced by the spice and alcohol in the malt. This is a bigger, more expressive version of Macallan 18. It’s going to be a huge hit.
Single Malt Scotch
The barrel room at Signatory.
BenRiach Distillery, Speyside Established 1897
Because BenRiach is GlenDronach’s sister distillery, they have casks from both distilleries aging on site. We’ve yet to make it over to BenRiach itself, but luckily we were able to taste some casks while staying at GlenDronach. BenRiach is located in Scotland’s Speyside region and was owned by Seagrams until 2002, when it was mothballed and later sold to what is now called the BenRiach Group. In the early ’80s, it was a laboratory for Seagrams, who experimented with peated expressions and various cask-aging methods. When we noticed a cask labeled 1984, we thought we’d found one of these famed rarities. And indeed we had. 1984 BenRiach 27 Year Old “K&L Exclusive” Single PX Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($199.99) This is a Pedro Ximenez sherry barrel-aged, peated whisky of 27 year old maturity with the same integration of richness and smoke that one finds in old Islay malts or the legendary peated Brora. In fact, we were so floored by the quality we thought it was better than some of the older Lagavulins and Broras we had tasted. “No one is going to believe us if we talk that way,” we said, but the truth couldn’t be denied. This whisky is phenolic, oily, briny, supple, chewy, rich, raisined and smoky. It hangs with the great aged island malts, but is priced far below them. Easily one of the top three whiskies from the trip and destined to become a K&L classic.
“We expected the price tags to be similarly astounding, but when we got the price list our jaws dropped in excitement. We snatched up the top quality malts.” get the prices down, and I think we’ve come back with some incredible deals thanks our negotiating skills and the good graces of Signatory’s management. We secured one of the most exquisite and special casks we’ve ever come across, as well as some solid, entry level offerings. The Creative Whisky Company, whose Exclusive Malts label we will be importing for the first time, is the exact opposite of Signatory. The owner, a young guy by the name of David Stirk, has invested everything in approximately 100 casks of whisky; his tiny operation is the definition of bootstrap! When we got to his small warehouse, some 15 casks had been set aside for us to taste. Not all of them were up to our standards, but several of them were very good. Really quite special. Of course we expected the price tags to be similarly astounding, but when we got the price list our jaws dropped in excitement. We snatched up the top quality malts. While Signatory might be providing us with this year’s best whisky (a point of contention), Exclusive Malts is, without a doubt, bringing the year’s best value. Don’t wait on either or you’ll regret it.
Exclusive Malts & Signatory
Aberlour Distillery, Speyside Established 1879
Part of the beauty of our work is that we are constantly solidifying and cultivating old relationships as well as searching out new ones to bring you the best whisky possible, including single casks you can’t find anywhere else. Signatory, for example, is one of the world’s most revered independent bottlers. Their success has allowed them to purchase the lovely little Edradour Distillery in Pitlochry in addition to bottling some of the most famous single casks available. Unfortunately, they know just how special these malts are. Can you say sticker shock? Several casks that we absolutely loved were just beyond our reach. We worked tirelessly to
Aberlour is another awesome Speysider that gets its water from Ben Rinnes mountain. (Both Glenfarclas and BenRinnes distilleries claim the mountain as their water source as well.) Located in the lovely little hamlet of the same name, Aberlour Distillery is just this wee little place, but it cranks out some big whisky. Known for having a very high proportion of sherry-aged whisky in their standard bottlings, Aberlour has made waves recently with a NAS Cask Strength malt called A’Bunadh, which usually comes from the most active young sherry butts. But we’ve got something we think you’ll like even more.
Single Malt Scotch
The Bunnahabhain Distillery on the northeast coast of Islay.
1990 Aberlour 21 Year Old “K&L Exclusive” Exclusive Malts Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($99.99) What Aberlour’s A’Bunadh bottlings have in power and intensity, we match in complexity and depth with this perfect cask from a first-fill sherry butt. Not that it’s a slouch at 49.2% ABV. There’s still plenty of steam left here, and balance too. Rich dried fruit (apples and raisins) and succulent candied citrus aromas are balanced by lovely vanilla and oloroso earthen spice. A true winner for sherry-finished whisky lovers.
smoke. This incredible cask yielded a tiny amount of whisky and needs absolutely no water as it’s already down to 43.4% ABV naturally. Longmorn Distillery, Speyside Established 1894
Bunnahabhain Distillery, Islay Established 1881
Owned by spirits giant Pernod-Ricard, Longmorn has long been the backbone to Chivas Regal blended Scotch. The malt, known for its rich vanilla flavor and creamy texture, is one of the most respected and beloved in the entire whisky industry, yet very little of it is sold as single malt whisky, especially in the U.S. Two of our best values come from this estimable distillery.
Situated on the northeastern coast of Islay, Bunnahabhain Distillery looks across the Sound of Islay to the mysterious hills of Jura. When we visited, the distillery was closed (be warned the Scottish love to close their distilleries on the weekends), but what we found seemed out of another era completely. It was not a sparkling beacon of modern distillation. No. In fact, it probably could use a coat of paint. But it felt authentic, if a bit ghostly. Bunnahabhain is marketed as the gentle Islay malt. While it is not peated, the owners boast that it contains less than two parts per million of phenol, it is undeniably Islay. Having changed hands several times in the last few decades, the newest stewards, Burn Stewart, have done a good job keeping this special distillery in the top tier of single malts.
1992 Longmorn 20 Year Old “K&L Exclusive” Exclusive Malts Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky ($99.99) A shockingly gorgeous little cask. Mature, sherried Longmorn is something that should be very expensive. In fact, I think we’re almost doing ourselves a disservice to sell this whisky so cheaply. I mean how can we possible live up to our own standards? Anyway, this tastes just the way it should: full of dense, pungent notes of cocoa and toffee. The rich mouthfeel is lifted slightly by spicy European oak and a hint of salinity. Dried tropical fruits, bananas and some very clear cocoa aromas contrast the strong sherry spice on the palate. It’s a shame this won’t last.
1989 Bunnahabhain “K&L Exclusive” Exclusive Malts Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky($99.99) Another insanely priced offering from Exclusive Malts. We tasted equally good Bunnah from other bottlers at more than twice this price. This refill sherry butt is about as classic a Bunnahabhain as we’ve ever tasted. While Bunnah is not peated, the massive stills produce some heady and intense flavors nonetheless. We thought it seemed a bit smokier than normal, but those phenols are all barrel driven. With vibrant lemon zest, salty-fresh oyster shell, it’s oily and earthy with a hint of Chartreuse or some other herbal liqueur. It definitely feels of both earth and ocean, truly an Islay malt, despite the lack of
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2002 Longmorn 10 Year Old “K&L Exclusive” Signatory Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky ($55.99) Our 10-year-old barrel of Longmorn, from a bourbon hogshead fitted with new toasted ends, is wonderfully fruity and expressive. The palate is light, fresh and full of Longmorn’s hallmark vanilla character across the backend. The finish is malty, with sweet grains dancing long after the whisky has vanished. We strongly felt that this whisky tasted better at 46% ABV, which is why we decided not to bottle it at full proof. That also brought the price down even lower, making this whisky one of the best values from our entire trip, period!
Single Malt Scotch
Left: A rare barrel of Glenlochy. Right: Road signs point to whisky goodness in Speyside.
BenRinnes Distillery, Speyside Established 1826
Most people know Ben Rinnes as the most famous mountain in Scotland, rather than for the distillery that also carries its name. Most of its fruity and expressive whisky is never labeled as such, ending up instead as one of the many components comprising the various Johnnie Walker blends. 1999 BenRinnes 12 Year Old “K&L Exclusive” Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($75.99) There’s plenty of fresh fruit and barrel spice on this whisky’s playful palate; it reminded us of our Bladnoch selection from last year. With a few drops of water the oils come out, bringing more texture, soft flavors of oak and plenty of vanilla to balance out all the fruit. The result is a wonderful bottle of Scotch, offering depth, variety and drinkability. BenRinnes isn’t as widelyknown as many of the other distilleries whose whisky we’ll be importing, and it is precisely for that reason we’re excited to bring it to you.
“According to the historical records, only 81 expressions of Glenlochy were ever bottled as single malt, mostly as single cask offerings from independent bottlers. And we are fortunate enough to be able to offer one.” Glenlochy Distillery, Highlands Established 1898, Closed 1983 (Demolished)
Glenlochy is one of the rarest, most difficult to find single malts in the world. Located in Fort William, just north of Oban, it was in the far west of the Highlands. The distillery operated on and off between 1898 and 1983, when it became victim to one of Diageo’s notorious mass-closings (which also ended production at Banff, Brora and Dallas Dhu). In 1992 the remaining buildings—a malt barn and kiln with pagoda roof—were sold to a hotel group and eventually turned into apartments. Today, the town of Fort William, on the banks of Loch Morar (the deepest in Scotland), is better known for its other distillery, Ben Nevis, than for the eccentric history of Glenlochy. According to the historical records, only 81 expressions of Glenlochy were ever bottled as single malt, mostly as single cask offerings from independent bottlers.
1980 Glenlochy 32 Year Old “K&L Exclusive” Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($449.99) There’s nothing more exciting than when an ellusive whisky blows you away and exceeds all possible expectations. We cannot express how outrageously complex this whisky is. The range of flavors is unfathomable. It’s like unraveling a giant ball of yarn. It opens with almond, nougat and exotic wood, all savory and powerful, then subtly shifts into herbal and fruit aromas. The nose is like a chameleon, at once beautifully exotic and powerfully brooding. On the palate, it is fabulously rich in texture, with a suggestion of candied nuts, roasted almonds, rich toffee, cotton candy, oils, butter and butterscotch. Unbelievably good, and one of a kind. Port Ellen Distillery, Islay Established 1825, Closed 1983
The dilapidated pagodas of the shuttered Port Ellen Distillery sit hidden behind the cold, blue-grey warehouses that now comprise Port Ellen Maltings. Once Islay’s highest volume distillery, making top quality whisky, Port Ellen fell victim to the glut of single malt whisky that flooded the market in 1982. The owners chose to mothball the facility in 1983, focusing their energies instead on the malting facility, which opened in 1974. Closed nearly 30 years now, Port Ellen’s whiskies are some of the most prized (and hard to find) on the single malt market. 1982 Port Ellen 30 Year Old “K&L Exclusive” Sovereign Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($599.99) Whoever said that persistence pays off was so freakin’ right. The only reason we ever got a hold of this baby was that we’ve built some great relationships in Scotland. So when we asked at Sovereign, again, eyebrows raised, “Do you have anything you could offer us?” They offered. We tasted. We loved. They bottled. And it’s a true glory. The nose shows soft, earthy peat and struck match igniting pipe tobacco. The palate is all weathered leather tempered by sweet, mellowing dark wood. This long and powerful malt turns the phenols back up to 11 for a spicy, peaty finish. We’re not sure we’ll see another one of these—Diageo has been buying the few remaining casks back from bottlers well above market price for their 12th annual Port Ellen release, which retails for about $1,000. They bottled nearly 3,000 of those; there will only be 150 of ours.
Single Malt Scotch
Faultine Private-Label Spirits
K&L has long had its own proprietary brand for exclusive wine deals— the Kalinda label that adorns many a bottle in our stores signifies wines privately bottled for us by some of the best wineries in the world. In 2011, while staying up late at the Bowmore Distiller’s Cottage, we decided that we needed our own label for booze as well. We wanted to have a great name. We started with all of these ridiculous incarnations of copper still parts or regional whisky nomanclature. The following morning, we came up with Faultline, named for the series of tectonic plates that run underneath K&L’s earthquake-prone San Francisco, Redwood City and Hollywood stores. We decided we would create a completely different label each time we bottled something, starting with a rare cask of Littlemill single malt we had found in an old warehouse. After that came an esoteric Borderies Cognac, an incredibly popular gin from St. George and a fun cask of Cragganmore that we picked up from an importer later on. Each release has been extremely well-received. We reserve the Faultline name for only the most special and exciting acquisitions to keep the reputation of the label respectable. This year, we’ve found quite the deal for Faultline: an affordable, delicious and rare sherry-aged whisky from one of the Highlands’ most popular distilleries. We can’t reveal the name of the producer, for legal reasons, but we’re sure you’ll be pleased! Faultline 10 Year Old Single Highland Malt 100 Proof Single Malt Whisky ($54.99) When we took over the K&L Spirits Department, we knew that we had to bring something different to the table. Usually, when you get a store-branded spirit, you’re almost certain to be getting screwed. Often it seems the objective is to provide perceived value for an inferior product. A few exceptions to this rule do apply, particularly from some excellent retailers in the UK and Europe, but we decided we’d draw a line in the sand. Faultline was born.
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Today we’re proud to offer one of our best “values” to date. It’s a bargain, but it’s not some cheap schlocky knock-off. This is from an exceptional but unnamable distillery. Aged for 10 glorious years in a very active sherry cask and bottled at a perfect 100 proof, this may be the most drinkable use of $50 available today. To our knowledge there has never been an independent bottling of this distillery’s whisky, and we certainly aren’t breaking that trend today as we won’t dare name it. But it really does taste great. 1990 Littlemill 21 Year Old “K&L Exclusive” Faultline Spirits Single Bourbon Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky ($124.99) When it was dismantled in 1996, Littlemill was only one of the oldest working distilleries producing some of the rarest single malt. It’s rarely mentioned these days. Straddling the line between the Lowlands and the Highlands, just north of Glasgow, it is traditionally classified as a Lowland whisky becauses it was historically triple distilled. But geographically, it’s more closely linked to the Highlands, and in the 1930s, the distillery switched to double distillation. Finding great Littlemill is extremely difficult. So we were very lucky to find this exceptional, ultra-rare cask and even more fortunate to get it for a reasonable price. From a secret special source, this warehouse contained several off-limits, uncommon casks. Somehow we weaseled this one out for the inaugural release of our own independent label. This bourbon cask was perfectly aged in a cool ocean climate and shows a great deal of depth. Its nose is redolent of strong caramel, green apple peel, rich grain and citrus blossom. The palate is full of Tootsie Roll, pineapple, more citrus and bit of white pepper. Complex, vibrant and truly special, there are just a few bottles of this left at printing. If there are still some available when you receive this, we recommend you snatch them up quickly.
Single Malt Scotch
Clockwise from top left: The barrel room at Springbank; Peat smoking at Laphroaig; Wash fermenting at Glenfarclas; Cooking the grist at Caol Ila.
What’s ahead for K&L’s whisky department, you ask? Expect a big surprise during the first part of 2013 from our friends across the Pacific. Because very little Japanese whisky has been exported to the U.S. thus far, collectors have been flying overseas to Asia or the U.K. to bring home special single malts unavailable in the States. Japan has a long history of whisky distillation, but its distillers have not wanted to create an entirely new line just for America. (Every other country in the world, outside of the U.S. and South Africa, uses 700ml size bottles, which means foreign whisky producers must create a new bottle and label just for U.S. consumers.) But one distillery, Karuizawa, closed in 2011 and its remaining stock was purchased by a U.K. beverage company. We knew this change in regime represented our one chance to import single malt directly from Japan and, after many months of back and forth email exchanges, we were able to secure two incredibly rare and delicious barrels of Japanese single malt from Karuizawa’s new owners. The bottles won’t be inexpensive, but they will represent the first Japanese single malts, besides the small handful available from Suntory, to hit the American market. Can you believe that little old K&L will be the first store to do this? It’s very exciting! Many thrilling adventures await us in 2013 as the market for quality booze gets tighter and tighter. We’re currently in the midst of a single malt shortage because distillers didn’t produce enough stock at the end of the ’90s to supply the current demand for 12- to 15-year-old spirits. This applies to bourbon, rye and Japanese whisky as well. Prices are going up
as a result. With less whisky available and demand at an all-time high, it’s no surprise that sourcing quality casks of single malt has become very, very difficult and expensive. We’re hoping that the relationships we’ve forged over the past few years, along with the emerging distilleries we’ve stood behind early, will continue to provide us with the access we need to keep K&L’s whisky enthusiasts supplied with delicious single malts. With an eye on value, diversity and uniqueness, you can bet that we’ll be back in Scotland next year, rummaging our way through warehouse after warehouse, all in the name of good booze. We are incredibly lucky to have had a “backstage pass” to the incredible, beautiful and welcoming country of Scotland. It sometimes feels like we’ve been invited to a party after our favorite band has just stepped off stage. We have so many people to thank, and we’re grateful for all the love and kindness that has been shown to us throughout our travels. But while we rely on countless people both Stateside and in Scotland to make our whisky program possible, no one is more important than you. We are so proud that you enjoy our selections, and owe you and your enthusiasm a great debt. We hope we can continue to repay you by bringing you the very best single malts that we can possibly find for years to come. For those who don’t already know, you can get the most up-to-date information about the K&L Spirits program by emailing [email protected]
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