So I went to San Francisco last week for a conference, and happened to be staying at a hotel close to John Walker & Co. I figured I'd stop in and see if they had any Crème de Violette, because I can't get any locally thanks to the PLCB. I'd picked up a bottle at a little corner liquor store the day before, but wanted to get another one for PeterB since he'd tried and failed to order us a few bottles through the PLCB's terrible SLO program a while ago.
Turns out I left with a bottle of Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette, a bottle of Peychaud's bitters, a bottle of Regan's orange bitters, and two bottles of Compass Box whisky that, uh, fell into my arms.
The first was the Oak Cross, which they describe as "a rich, medium-bodied malt whisky" combining "vanilla
characters from American oak and spicy, clove-like characters from French oak". Basically, they take a selection of 10-12 year old Highland single malts, blend them, and re-age them in American oak barrels with new French oak ends. They end up with an interestingly spicy and woody scotch that's as smooth as any good Highland but has more of a clove punch than I'd expected. It's great with chocolate.
The second was their Flaming Heart limited release, "a big, bold malt whisky that combines peaty smokiness with the richness of French oak aging". This one takes 10-16 year old single malts from Islay and the Highlands, blends them, and ages them for 18 months in the French oak they use for the Oak Cross. The result is almost as intensely peaty as a Laphroaig but with a spice punch that's almost as strong. Incredibly good.
I guess I'm a bad person for smuggling the Oak Cross back to PA in my luggage, since I could technically special-order it from the PLCB. I'd need to buy an entire case, though, and probably wait 45 days for it to show up, if it ever did actually show up. The Flaming Heart can't be ordered at all from the PLCB, though in fairness that's probably partially because Compass Box only made about 4,000 bottles of it.
Still, it was a lot nicer to wander through John Walker, look at the bottles, ask the very pleasant and helpful clerks about them, and be able to pay right there and walk out with the whisky I wanted. After being used to liquor shopping in Pennsylvania, ending up in a store with such an incredible selection and a staff that was so excited about having customers who cared about good liquor was more or less the mixology equivalent of finding Bigfoot.
The fact that a store like John Walker could not legally operate in Pennsylvania is one of the best arguments against the PLCB I can think of.