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Thursday
May072015

Arriver En Retard

Let’s talk about two of the most special brandies we’ve ever purchased that have finally arrived on our latest container. These two incredible spirits took us over a year to acquire, and there is precious little available for the moment. We’re doing our best to get another drop, but we likely won’t have any more until November at the earliest. In 2014, during our last trip to Armagnac, we discovered that Montreal du Gers (the town where we stay each year in Gascony) had its own brandy producer; a fact that completely shocked us considering it was our fourth trip to the region.

"Why the hell have we never visited them if they're right here in town?" we asked Charles incredulously.

"Because you're going to love them, but they'll never bottle anything for you; and they're expensive," was his reply.

Nevertheless, when we heard that Ladeveze was producing Armagnac in Montreal, we wanted to check out the scene (of course, Charles's comments only made us more curious). Jean and his son Alexander are doing some very interesting things at Ladeveze, including higher warehouse maturation (evaporating more water to increase the proof of the spirit) and the planting of ultra-rare grape varietals for distillation. For example, they have a 1998 vintage made entirely from Plant de Graisse (apparently allowed by ancient appellation doctrine). 

We were stunned by the quality of the Armagnac at Ladeveze, so much so that we tasted through just about everything they had available. They're much more interested in cask strength brandy than any other producer we visited, which is right up our alley. The spirits had character, a certain liveliness, and lots of gusto. Whereas the Pellehaut brandies are soft and graceful, the Ladeveze brandies have punch and power. They were a little pricey, but we think the Plaint de Graisse is so good it doesn't matter. The question we had to ask ourselves was: do our customers care enough about artisinal Armagnac to pay a little extra? Considering we've almost sold out of this Armagnac in less than two days, I'll take that as a yes.

1998 Ladeveze Plaint de Graisse 16 Year Old Tenereze Armagnac $119.99  Distilled from a rare varietal of grape called Plaint de Graisse, the character of the Ladeveze is both exotic and intense, with wacky aromas that range from earthy, almost cheesy accents to pencil shavings and brandied cherries. The palate is a wave of soft fruit that goes from green mango to an earthy papaya flavor, but with a rich and warming finish of vanilla and soft fruit. There’s a mineral note and a vinous accent at the back end, making this brandy much more about the wine than the wood, but there’s enough richness to balance it all out. This is not a Bourbon drinker’s brandy; it’s a wine lover’s brandy. What makes this Armagnac incredible is the rollercoaster ride of flavors from front to back, that never go too high, or dip down too low. It’s a complete and balanced experience from front to back and, man, is it delicious. The flutter of cinnamon at the end goes on for a good five minutes. Completely unique and unparalleled when compared to anything else we have in stock. Bottled at 45%

Special brandy number two is a 1965 vintage Cognac from Stephane at Famille Vallein Tercinier, a larger Bon Bois producer who has multiple stills and sells much of his liquid to Courvoisier. He has piercing, sky-blue eyes, intensely-dark pupils, and some very-defined incisors. He could have been the next Christopher Lee, but he decided to marry into a large Cognac-distilling family and take up a quiet existence making fine spirits. We sampled a large number of brandies from various properties owned by Vallein, which had been distilled and matured separately into different expressions. We managed to get 36 bottles of the Lot 65, from which we’ve already sold twenty to people who have been eagerly anticipating its arrival (that's how on the ball our customers are these days).

Vallein Tercinier Grand Champagne Tres Vieux Lot 65 Cognac $259.99  If you’re going to splurge for a bottle of Cognac, this is it. Bottled at 47% “Brut de Fut” this is an exceptionally old Cognac that brings the goods in every way possible. Decadent on the nose with deep, dark rancio aromas of caramel, toffee, brandied fruit, and burnt sugar. The palate is a revelation: a concentrated core of crème brulee and toffee, but balanced by oak spices, bits of earthiness, and the power of the proof. It never gets too supple or too sweet, and it’s by far the most youthful Cognac of 50 years of age that I’ve ever tasted. A true masterpiece of the genre.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
May052015

Aperitivo Leopoldo

After five years of working together, repeated emails, and even a podcast episode, I finally got to meet Todd Leopold in the flesh today. He dropped by the Redwood City store to say hello and bring me sample of his new Campari-esque aperitivo; for which he is currently out from Colorado to promote. I was very excited to meet him as we've been big fans of Leopold Bros from some time, and we're always looking for ways to work together on future projects. 

I don't want to get too ahead of myself here (mainly because we won't have the product for another week or so), but I can safely say that the Leopold Aperitivo is the first real challenger to Campari in the modern age of amari and digestivos. Ever since the Negroni re-emerged as the cocktail de jour of the neo-booze renaissance, companies from all over the world have been looking to piggyback off of Campari's rediscovered glory and insert their own form of bitter liqueur into the conversation. As a devout devotee of Campari myself, I've been disappointed too many times in the past by the promise of a new hope, only to find myself going back to the red-tinted rescue of my first true love. Today, however, I may have finally been tempted into adultery.

The Leopold Aperitivo is slightly more bitter, slightly more sweet, and slightly more expressive than the standard Campari formula, and get this: Todd is actually using cochineal from Peru to color the liquid! Much like Campari once did before they switched over to a red chemical dye (so this aperitivo will not be vegan). It's going to blow your minds. I'm in for a few hundred bottles, if that gives you any inclination as to what I think about this little elixir. Get ready.

-David Driscoll

Monday
May042015

City Provisions

Last night was a city night; a true night on the town with good friends. We were going all out. A double date with the wives at San Francisco's most talked-about and most difficult-to-book new eatery: State Bird Provisions. Our friends had been. We had not. They had lucked out with the reservation and invited us to join them. "OK, but you need to let us take you for drinks first," I declared. "And I know just the place if we're going all out." 

I've said it before, I've said it again, and I'm going to state it once more for the record: Jennifer Colliau is a master bartender. She's not fancy, she's not arrogant, and she's not really doing anything weird or out of the box. She makes classic drinks that taste better than anyone else's classic drinks because she's more committed than any other bartender I've ever met. You want a Manhattan? Her Manhattan is better than any Manhattan you could ever make. You want a Gimlet? I guarantee you: you don't even know what's possible with a Gimlet until you try her version. My buddy Luke ordered the "Decanted Mother-in-Law", which came in its own little bottle. According to Jen, the cocktail dates back at least 150 years, but she doesn’t know the original name of the drink. It was inherited by Brooks Baldwin’s grandmother’s mother-in-law, and has since acquired that title in the annuls of cocktaildom. Apparently, decanters of this boozy mixture still sit on countertops in New Orleans, prepared in the morning so as to be ready for guests at a moment’s notice. It's made with bourbon, curacao, and amer with both Angostura and Peychaud's bitters.

We had about eight different drinks with Jen (our friends were just in complete awe) before saying our thanks and heading over to Fillmore for our dinner reservation. If you haven't been to the Interval yet, it's about time you made your way over to Fort Mason. 

I'll put this out there as a primer: I'm not really someone who enjoys fancy food that much more than I enjoy something like pizza, or tacos, or a steaming bowl of noodles. However, it's for that reason that I completely fell head-over-heels for State Bird Provisions. I've talked about the modern way forward for booze as of late; a new era of alcohol that combines unpretentious, laid-back fun with supreme quality and execution. That's SBP in a nutshell. It's all California-style cuisine served in small portions, dim-sum style—meaning they bring carts and trays around to your table and you take what you feel like eating. Everyone is friendly, they greet you casually, they're happy to explain things further if you'd like them to, but ultimately they just want you to have a good time. They get an A+ for customer service.

You might think a place this popular would be outrageously expensive, but the prices per plate are often no more than three to five dollars. Much like with Jen's cocktails, there's nothing really new happening with the dishes here, it's just that the flavors explode in your mouth with each bite in a way that no one else's food does. I took a bite of black rice-covered pork with apple sauce and I almost dropped my fork in adulation. Same with the salmon belly, the ridiculous mussels in lemon and sesame, and the best oyster I've ever eaten with seaweed and crunchy quinoa as a topping. You are gonna have to shell out a bit for the wine, but they have magnums of Sancerre and German riesling on the list, which should keep four people busy for at least an hour or two. We did the Sancerre and managed to make it last the entire meal.

I'm also not a big dessert person, but the pecan ice cream sandwiches with peanut-flavored milk made my head spin. The recipes were reminiscent of David Chang's Milk Bar in Manhattan, which is great for West Coast fans like myself who don't want to fly 3,000 miles across the country to taste such delicacies. I left inspired and intoxicated, but never once did I feel stuffed or overfed. I just felt alive and excited about the possibilities for great food and drink in this world. "There are other people out there who fucking get it," I said to my wife as we left. "This place is everything I love about modern dining without any of the lame hang-ups or attitudes that usually go with it." The only problem was figuring out how to get back in!

"How do I get another reservation?" I asked the waitress as we left. 

"You have to book via our website at least a month in advance, but every day there are people waiting for the next day's open tables. You have to be very dedicated and get to the webpage early," she replied.

"I'm very familiar with that process," I said with a laugh. State Bird is totally worth the effort required.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
May032015

Bottle Service

While the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight wasn't as action-packed as we all might have hoped, last night I instituted my new rule about spirited bottle service to tremendously successful results. No more would I press upon my guests the entirety of the Driscoll bar and that take-a-sip-of-twenty-different-things nonsense. No, on this occasion we would remain focused on the repeated enjoyment of singular expressions, rather than overwhelm ourselves with the brain-numbing saturation of too many selections. Two brand new bottles of highly-drinkable spirits would be opened and we would consume multiple glasses of those spirits until the bottles were empty, or until our internal tanks ran dry. My next-door neighbors are from Puerto Rico and really enjoy drinking rum, so I broke out my last bottle of Havana Club Añejo in their honor. Everyone else (besides myself) was of Mexican heritage and asking for good mezcal, so we popped my brand new Bruxo #3 in addition. 

In between jabs and body blows, we sipped our shots. The bottles were passed across the room, nestled in between empty beer cans and forgotten glasses of Champagne. The tanginess of the wild Barril agave flavor was briefly discussed and appreciated. The mellowness and suave of the Cuban rum had everyone captivated. While my guests began saying their goodbyes around 10:30, my neighbor Alexis and I stayed up until long past midnight, revisiting old fights on HBO On Demand, and analyzing the rise of new Eastern European fighters like Gennady Golovkin and Ruslan Provodnikov, while pouring ourselves glass after glass of that delicious rum. Never once were we overly-intoxicated or past our tolerance. Like the boxers on the screen in front of us, we were pacing ourselves, round after round, with endurance and dedication. It was truly a great evening, and one that I'll remember for some time.

And rather than some hazy recollection of too much booze, I'll remember that we casually drank Bruxo and Havana Club until those bottles were empty; the front door open, letting the cool evening air blow in as we sipped. 

-David Driscoll

Saturday
May022015

Get Your Bar Ready

I'm outta here tonight right before six so that I can get back home and hang out with the boys for fight night. I've got a lotta different tastes coming over for the Mayweather/Pacquiao match, so I've gotta make sure I'm fully stocked. I'm sure many of you are in the same boat. Here's my menu for tonight's card:

- 12 tall cans of Stiegl Austrian lager - to start the night off right

- 1 magnum of Bruno Michel Rose Champagne - for the ladies in the house to get crunk

- 1 bottle of Willett 2 year old rye whiskey - for rocks sippin', or for Old Fashioned cocktails

- 1 bottle of Lemorton Domfrontais Calvados - for my special Pan-American Clipper cocktail

- 4 bottles of 2013 Tariquet "Classic" Cotes de Gascogne Blanc - drankin' sauce from Gascony

- 1 bottle of 2012 Domaine Ragot Givry Vieilles Vignes - juicy red Burgundy for a slam dunk price

- 1 bottle of Bittermilk #1 Barrel Aged Old Fashioned Cocktail Mix 8.5 oz - easy pro-tasting cocktails

- 1 bottle of Small Hand Foods Grenadine 8.5oz - the great grenadine of this modern world

- A bag of limes and lemons

- Lots of ice

- Two pizzas, a gang-load of tamales, a large platter of Vietnamese spring rolls from Hometown Noodle, popcorn, chips.

Let's get it on! What's your menu gonna be?

-David Driscoll