Top Picks at K&L California – Whisky News

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  • Faultline Blended Scotch Whisky 750ml ($24.99) For three long years, David Othenin-Girard and I have been trying to create an inexpensive, delicious, value-driven, yet simultaneously interesting expression of blended Scotch whisky that we could feature under our Faultline label. There were many times when we thought we were close, but either the quality of the whisky or the cost of the barrels proved prohibitive. We didn’t want to make a $25 bottle of whisky just for the sake of it. If we were going to do it, then we were going to it right. Finally, after working on and off with the Laings for a year-long blending process, we hammered out a profile we were happy with. Big smoke, Ardbeg-like peat flavors, and a kiss of sweet grain was our goal and we definitely achieved it in this bottle. Unlike most big brand blends, there are no coloring agents or sweeteners in the Faultline Scotch, just a pale straw colored liquid that bursts with character and, due to the heavy malt content, finishes with richness and weight. We wanted to make sure that, upon launch, there would be absolutely nothing on the market that could match the quality of flavor, price, beauty of design, and bang for the buck. After three long years, we think we’ve done it. For $25 you get one helluva bottle of Scotch. Smokier than Johnnie Black, more complex than Chivas, and less expensive than both of them. Plus, it’s an assertive 100 proof. Try it in a cocktail, pour it over ice, add in soda water. It’s the real deal. (David Driscoll, Spirits Buyer)
  • 2008 Caol Ila 5 Year Old Hepburn’s Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml ($49.99) Don’t let the young age fool you: this five year old, single barrel, cask strength version of the legendary Islay distillery is bringing more than its share of bang for the buck. Getting a single barrel, full strength version of any single malt whisky is tough for $50, but a full-throttle Caol Ila? Forget about it. The youthful vigor of a young mezcal meets the fat-fruited, supple texture of the malt master; that’s the best way to describe this whisky. Lots of smoke and immature phenolic action quickly turns rich and round and finishes with a mouthful of stone fruit and citrus. Absolutely one of the most exciting whiskies we have on the shelf at any price and a true stunner for those who appreciate gusto. A whopping 61.1% brings the intensity!
  • 1996 Craigellachie 18 Year Old Hepburn’s Choice K&L Exclusive Single Sherry Butt Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml ($99.99) It wouldn’t be a whisky season without some big rich sherried malt to round out the selection. Craigellachie is becoming a serious force now that the owners have finally decided it should be marketed as a single malt. This exceptional distillery was almost exclusively reserved for the blends until very recently, but the heightened profile means that procuring more in the future might become more difficult. That’s why we knew we had to jump on this spectacular sherried ‘llachie. This has everything you want in a sherried malt and nothing that you don’t. It starts with a slight flintiness (don’t worry it’s not sulfur, just a spark on the front), this quickly blows off to reveal a magnificent bouquet of dried cherries, fudgy cacao nibs, roasted coffee beans, and freshly polished sandalwood. The dark aromas translate well to the palate, but never go bitter and the malty spirit adds lift and sweetness. Here is a truly balanced sherried malt like none other on the shelf right now. Sure we all sometimes love a big hammer of sherry right in your sensory organs, but sometimes you want the sweet velvety caress of that special wine from Jerez. Balanced, yet not lacking depth or power in anyway.
  • 1989 Girvan 24 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky 750ml ($99.99) Our grain whiskies from the Sovereign label have been some of the most beloved in our store’s history, which is why we’re back with another fabulous Girvan; the William Grant Lowland distillery located in the South Ayrshire (where Ladyburn distillery was once located). Remember that grain whiskies are not single malts, but rather column-distilled whiskies usually made from corn (like Bourbon). The Girvan 24 year is full of soft vanilla right off the bat, almost like an older version of the Nikka Coffey expression, but with more pop due to the higher proof. The vanilla turns into caramel on the mid-palate and it finishes with more soft sweetness before the alcohol comes roaring in. With grain prices as low as they are, expect more outstanding values like this in the near future.
  • Macallan 21 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky 750ml ($249.99) We were downright shocked when Douglas Laing offered us this exceptional 21 year old Macallan as the “Speyside” representation for their new Old Particular brand being released exclusively stateside by K&L. Not only has Macallan basically become unobtainable on the secondary market, when it is available the prices you see are astronomical. So, when they suggested we try an older Mac for this year we were certain it wouldn’t fly for those very reasons. Well, for once it feels great to be wrong. This is by no means inexpensive, but Mac from a single barrel over 20 years old this is an absolute steal. Now of course, this is not the ultra sherried Macallan, but more in line with the flavor profile you might get from the “Fine Oak” series. Here we have the Rolls Royce of single malts in it’s true form. Malty richness like no other whisky, sweet oak and subtle vanilla. Slightly bruised apple skin and dark cocoa aromas, obfuscate soft floral and sweet honey notes, which come out with a drop of water. The palate is supple and round, more cocoa and a sweet maple wood tone. Great balance between sweet and spice. Warming, inviting and open out of the bottle, yet this whisky swims like a fish. Because this came from a refill bourbon cask, there were only 102 bottles produced and considering the OB 21 year sells for more than $100 more, you can expect this to disappear shortly. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
  • 1995 Miltonduff 19 Year Old Hepburn’s Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml ($99.99) Miltonduff is an old Hiram Walker distillery that was purchased by Pernod Ricard in 2005. It’s known mostly for its role in the Chivas Blended whiskies, but we’ve had tremendous success with the single malt version through our independent cask business. The Highland flavor is pure, simple, and to the point, often matching other more-renowned distilleries in terms of quality, but for a fraction of the price. This lovely 19 year old cask is classic malt for classic malt drinkers: sweet barley, soft vanilla, a burst of oak spice on the back end, and lovely balance of those three flavors on the finish. At 50%, the flavors are highlighted and more pronounced, offering a bit more pinache than what one normally finds in the 43% market. In hoping to find mature whiskies of 17-21 years of age for $100 or less, we’ve been turning to some of the lesser-known names of Scotland. In turn, however, we’ve been establishing those same unknowns in the minds of our customers. It won’t be long before most of our clients begin recognizing the Miltonduff name and associating it with one thing: insider value.
  • 2007 Mortlach 7 Year Old Hepburn’s Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml ($49.99) We absolutely the loved our sample of Young Mortlach when we tasted in Scotland last year. But getting back to the states with only the memory of this lovely young whisky meant that when we actually ordered this whisky, we simply weren’t certain what to expect. On paper it looks great, inexpensive, unadulterated young malt from one of Scotland’s greatest distilleries at a great price. But, every time you put a young age statement on a whisky you’re bound to have some push back. To our great delight, we now that our educated customer based will appreciate that Single Malt need to be old to be great. This little Mortlach is proof. So much complexity at such a young age, this whisky shows tons of pear and that subtle savory side. Without any sherry, the spirit is free to speak and it does so loudly! This guy definitely needs some air, but only a drop of water to open up nicely. Refreshing and clean, yet masculine and powerful. All that beefiness and sweet candied fruit all in one taught little package. Some of you will fall head over heels for this guy, guaranteed.
  • 1964 North British 50 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky 750ml ($249.99) Just outside of Edinburgh, in a south western district called Gorgie, sits the North British distillery; a joint venture owned by both Diageo and The Edrington Group. There since the 1880s, this site has long produced whisky for the Johnnie Walker, Cutty Sark, and Famous Grouse blends, but rarely is it bottled on its own. When we saw the chance to bottle a 50 year old grain whisky for a fraction of what malt prices run, we didn’t hesitate. Distilled in 1964, this ethereal North British expression still has the remarkable sweetness of a youthful spirit, but with the texture, complexity, and deep, rich character of an aged expression. Unlike malt, the older grain whiskies don’t necessarily get richer or denser, but rather quite savory with a subtle smoky character. The flavors meander from vanilla and caramel to dry herbs. It’s a wild ride from beginning to end, but well worth the price of admission. With more 50 year old single malts well into the four-figure mark these days, $250 is a downright steal. We expect this cask to be the first to go.
  • 1978 Port Dundas 36 Year Old Sovereign K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Grain Whisky 750ml ($149.99) Closed by Diageo in 2009, Port Dundas was formerly a grain distillery that operated in North Glasgow, providing the base whiskies for White Horse and Johnnie Walker. Grain whisky, made on a Coffey still from corn rather than barley, is rarely sold on its own, but this ancient cask from a silent distillery was too good to pass up. And the price! 36 years of rich, creamy, vanilla-laden whisky at cask strength for $150! Grain whisky is back in a big way, but while the rest of the market catches up we’ve been grabbing casks at bargain basement prices. This Port Dundas is a viscous beast of caramel that begins with toffee and finishes with butterscotch like a Werther’s Original. A hot deal while it lasts.
  • 2004 Smoky & Peaty Tobermory (Ledaig) 8 Year Old Hepburn’s Choice K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky 750ml ($59.99) Nearly half of Tobermory’s production is dedicated to peated malt whisky. This is known typically as Ledaig, but for some reason that word never actually makes it onto our independently bottled offerings of this special whisky. Labeled hear as “Smoky & Peaty,” for those of you who’ve been following us for a while you’ll know that we love these young Ledaigs. This is the third young smokey Tobermory we’ve offered and shockingly the price is the same as last year’s even though this is a year old (and arguably a better whisky). The rugged peaty malt that comes out of this distillery is unlike anything from Islay. The smoke is more earthy than oceany (for some reason it’s really reminding me of Port Charlotte today). Herbaceous and intense, the dark earthy peat is balanced by a wonderful sweet malt. This is way more in balance than even our last Ledaig and feels more put together than the even the distillery bottling. Amazing what only 8 years in a refill hogshead can do when the spirit is on point.
  • Tobermory 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Old Particular (Douglas Laing) Single Barrel Single Malt Whisky 750ml ($109.99) Tobermory is kind of hot right now. While this distillery is often listed as a highlander, it is actually from the majestic and mystical Isle of Mull. There the picturesque hamlet of Tobermory, contains one of the Scotland’s most underappreciated malt producers. Their current flagship 15 year old is now on the market for a staggering $150 a bottle and while it’s a fine malt, we’ve always found it to be slightly over priced. Now this wonderful 18 year old expression from a refill sherry butt, makes a mature version of this fun distillery available to all. Tobermory has a unique character and this expression is no different. The nose is creamy oak and rich vanilla – the sherry notes are very faint – it’s a contemplative malt for sure. When it hits the palate a wonderful herbal rush powers out the sweet oak aromas, this is followed by a strong pepper and then the tiny hint of nutty sherry. On the end a briny note builds, giving depth, but also ke eping it lively. The aromas in the glass after that last sip are almost as impressive as the whisky itself. A fun, if not quite different malt, that should definitely be a benchmark for the unusual and interesting distillery.
  • Caol Ila 12 year old Islay Single Malt Whisky 750ml ($59.99) 90-95 points Wine Enthusiast: “**Best Buy** A seductive brininess and waves of oily peat-reek greet the olfactory sense. The palate entry finds a surprisingly buttery-creamy leaning along with the peat-reek; at midpalate the flavor becomes concentrated, oily, malty sweet, and only moderately peaty. Ends on a sweet malty note. Builds from stage to stage, each phase being better than the last.” (06/2006) Whisky Advocate: “Funny to think how recently Caol Ila was an Islay giant that was kept pretty much under wraps by its owner. These days it has cemented its reputation as the island’s Mr. Consistent. This version shows its character the best, a nose that mixes seashore and grass with a distinct hint of smoked bacon. The peatiness isn’t dominant, but flows throughout the palate, scenting, lifting, and subtly changing the mix. A delicious oiliness makes it a great food whisky. (Vol. 21, #2)” Wine Spectator: “A very balanced Islay, with a flowery sweetness on the nose that gives as good as it gets against the insistent peat and salt. The peat increases on the palate, but once again the whisky counters with honey and bread dough to maintain equilibrium. Then come sweet spices that get more vibrant on the finish as they’re joined by smoked salmon. Blend drinkers should note that this is where Johnnie Walker gets much of its peat.” (02/2011)

K&L Wine Merchants
http://www.klwines.com
Phone: 877-KLWines (toll free 877-559-4637)
Email: wine@klwines.com
San Francisco, Redwood City, Hollywood CA

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