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Tuesday
Jun022015

¡Viva Los Vivancos!

Jalisco is a lot like Scotland in that there are a number of great distilleries you've never heard of making booze on contract. Personally, Benrinnes comes to mind when I think of one of my favorite single malts that doesn't have an actual brand, but is available under many different guises. When I think of my favorite tequila distilleries, NOM 1414 Felicianos Vivancos would be right there in the top three in terms of overall quality and diversity of delicious flavor—and I wouldn't be alone in that assessment. There's a reason why industry experts like Jacob Lustig and David Suro have turned to the Vivancos when sourcing liquid for their personal projects, and there's a reason why their two tequilas—ArteNOM and Siembra Azul—continue to be two of the most popular brands we sell. The Vivancos are known for their quality Arandas agave, their dedication to long, slow fermentations (with classical music blaring to stimulate the yeast), and their rich, supple spirits that glide across the palate with supreme delicacy.

When I visited the distillery last year with some of my industry pals, I was really taken aback by not only the quality of the base tequila, but also how that quality carried over into their aged expressions—even barrel by barrel. It was because of that afternoon spent sampling casks with Sergio that my desire for single barrel expressions of Vivanco tequila began to grow, and luckily I had been working with another small label in California that felt they could facilitate such a request.

Gran Dovejo tequila is a small California company with close relations to the Vivancos, and I've been working with Frank Mendez and his team for years. It's because of our long history that they allow me to cherry pick premium casks of Vivanco añejo juice for our K&L exclusive spirits program, and—believe me—I'll take whatever I can get when it comes to NOM 1414. Usually there's nothing in stock at K&L that can top these single barrel editions of Dovejo, but David Suro's new 10th Anniversary Reposado is right there neck and neck this time around. Why is this particular reposado so good? Because David decided to dump in a bunch of 3+ year old extra añejo to add extra richness, yet wanted to declassify that juice down and stick with the reposado label. The result is magical. You get extra-mature flavor for the price of the standard reposado.

Both are currently in stock and ready to go, but to add an extra little cherry on top, I've worked out a new deal on the Gran Dovejo to get the blanco and reposado down to a magical price for the time being. Mendez is planning to change the entire brand over to the tall, thinner bottle in the photo above, so in order to help them along with that goal I decided to buy up a large chunk of the current rectangular shape. I'll pass that savings along to you all, so that everyone can enjoy in the splendor that is Vivanco tequila. Check it out:

Siembra Azul 10th Anniversary Reposado Tequila $49.99 - Already one of the best tequilas we sell, David Suro's Siembra Azul decided to dial things up a notch in celebrating ten years of business. The 10th Anniversary Reposado combines a standard reposado batch of Vivancos tequila with older barrels of 3+ year old extra añejo juice, to create the richest and rounded reposado you've ever tasted. The nose is a haunting bouquet of baking spice, butterscotch, and pepper with hints of toasted oak lingering in the background. The palate is a delicate wave of subtle spice, black pepper, and roasted agave notes, with a finish that's both robust and clean. There's never a trace of sweetness or vanilla, as the palate is dominated by a dry and dusty spice that teases decadance, but restrains itself in favor of elegance and balance. It's a monumental tequila, truly worth of celebrating a decade in the business.

Gran Dovejo K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Añejo Tequila $59.99 - After more than a year of effort, restarts, and failed label attempts, our single barrel of Gran Dovejo Anejo tequila is finally here and ready to drink! 216 bottles were yielded from one Bourbon barrel at Felciano Vivanco distillery in Arandas, Jalisco -- also the home of ArteNOM 1414 and Siembra Azul. The difference with Gran Dovejo is that Leopoldo Solis oversees all production, and as one of the workers told me at the distillery this past Spring: "He is the very best. Everything he makes is the best you can drink." I can't say I disagree with that statement. Gran Dovejo remains one of the best kept secrets at K&L. Distributed by the Mendez family out of the Central Valley, this isn't a big time operation with much reach. It's very much a niche item and we're happy to be the first retailer to work directly with GD on an exclusive expression. Our single barrel offers a flurry of black pepper, sage, savory herbs, and a faint whisper of baking spices, yet the palate is never hot, spicy, or fiery in any way. The texture is delicate, the alcohol completely tamed by more than a year in oak. The wood acts more like a modifier in this tequila, rather than the focus. It's an anejo expression that bridges the gap between pure agave flavor and top-shelf luxury. We also begged the Mendez family to change their packaging so that we could more easily ship our bottles and they complied with a beautiful new, sleekly-styled bottle that should please fans of booze aesthetics. Very limited.

And new limited time pricing....

Gran Dovejo Blanco Tequila $34.99 (NORMALLY $42) - Frank Mendez called me one day and told me he'd like to come present his new family project: Gran Dovejo tequila.  While Frank and his cousin don't come from a tequila making background, they consider themselves aficionados and feel the same exasperation I do towards the current state of Big Tequila. They said to themselves, "if we're going to do this, we're going to do it right - no cutting costs, no hiring a giant factory to mass produce flavorless swill, no catering to Costco, no parties with celebrities, just good tequila." In order to do so, they tracked down Leopoldo Solis Tinoco (one of the great master distillers in Mexico) to help bring Gran Dovejo to life. Leopoldo was so satisfied with the final result that he offered to put his name on the bottle as a sign of approval. The blanco is outstanding - vibrant, expressive, bursting with citrus, flowers and spices, but finishing cleanly. The blanco is always the test of any tequila and passes with flying colors. This is easily the most exciting blanco I've had in over a year and it will speak to any true tequila sipper out there - a benchmark for white spirits.

Gran Dovejo Reposado Tequila $39.99 (NORMALLY $50) - The Reposado is the most understated of the bunch--mild mannered, hinting at greatness, but never unleashing its full fury. I enjoyed it and found it to be quite tasty on the finish, long and gentle.

The fact that we're offering a discount on the best tequila in the business is crazy, but I'm not complaining. You get a producer that needs to switch distribution or bottle shapes and deals can happen. Take advantage of it.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
May312015

Choose Wisely: The Quest for the Cup

I got a lot of emails from readers who enjoyed my usage of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in one of the more recent posts. One response said, "David, I appreciate how you use movies as metaphors to make your point. It really hits home." I appreciate the positive feedback, and I'm glad many of you enjoy reading those posts as much as I enjoy writing them. The Last Crusade has a particularly special place in my heart, and I know that film like the back of my hand. What's funny about Indiana's third adventure is that the film's final scene—where the team must choose the correct grail—is pretty much a metaphor for my everyday life (NOTE: if you've been living under a rock since 1989 and you have no idea what I'm talking about, click on the above video and skip to 1:37 on the timer). While the vast majority of our customers come into the store, look around, grab a few bottles, then head for home, there are always a few who severely struggle with that ultimate decision; staring at the wall in agony, beads of sweat running down their faces. Some, like Donovan, look for the most regal of all bottles, thinking the best booze will be in the most ornate of receptacles"Truly the cup of a king." Others go into pure archeologist mode, thinking they can outsmart the third and final test by choosing the most humble of all labels; as if the entire shelf is a gigantic test of their intelligence—"It would not be made out of gold." But what they all have in common is the fear that, should they "choose poorly", their life is going to end and they'll end up nothing but an exploding pile of dusty old bones; just another victim of the game.

As for me, I'm like the knight: I'm forced to just sit there and watch the process go down; day after day, year after year. It's not always an easy thing to take in. Unlike the knight, however, I'm allowed to offer assistance—and I'm always happy to do so. However, I'm not someone who believes that finding the Holy Grail is the ultimate goal of shopping for a bottle of booze, so in these instances I'm more like Sean Connery when he sees Indy struggling to reach the cup. I'm going to hold your hand, attempt to pull you out of the abyss, and say:

"Indiana.....Indiana......let it go."

It's not about fortune and glory, kid. It's about illumination. 

-David Driscoll

Saturday
May302015

Negroni Week Begins June 1st

My how far we've come over the past eight years. I remember having to ask what a Negroni was in the year 2007. Now there's an entire week being dedicated to its renaissance by Campari. I think if you were to split my wrist open and draw blood from my veins, there would be at least 10% Campari mixed in with all the platelets and plasma. I drink Campari like it's....well, Campari. Or water. Or whatever people drink a lot of these days. Energy drinks? I've watched the would-be substitutes come and go. "This new thing is better than Campari!" people try to tell me, hoping that I'll eventually make the switch. But they never are better, and that liter bottle of red deliciousness continues to go on my K&L tab each week (I probably drink about 52 bottles of Campari a year).

Then Todd Leopold from Leopold Bros. Distillers came to visit me a few weeks back and everything changed. I was totally blown away by his Leopold Aperitivo, to the point that I actually think I might now have to divide my time between both brands. My co-worker Gary Westby and I made Negronis with it last week and were floored. I can safely say that if you're going to celebrate Negroni week, you won't be able to do it right unless you have a bottle of the Leopold on hand.

What's in a Negroni? It's very simple: equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. Stir with ice until cold, then strain into a coup glass or pour it on the rocks with a twist. Make the same recipe with the Leopold Aperitivo and tell me it isn't just as good. I dare you.

Leopold Bros. Aperitivo $34.99- If you're a Campari fan, but have never been able to find something outside of the Italian legend that scratches that same itch, then this might be the one thing that finally captivates you. The Leopold brothers have gone back to the drawing board and created an all natural version of the bitter aperitivo that uses real cochineal (like Campari used to) to color the liquid and brings a much bolder, more bitter flavor. It mixes like a DREAM into a Negroni and works wonders in an Americano. If you think you've got the Negroni cocktail mastered, think again. Until you've used this you can't be sure!

-David Driscoll

Friday
May292015

Ardbeg Forever

It's finally here! The 200th Anniversary Celebration limited edition bottle of Ardbeg is in stock and ready to go. We've got plenty (for the time being) because we haven't sent out the big email yet, so this is when all you faithful blog readers should grab yours. After the email goes, so does the whisky. This is one of the more soft and savory of the limited edition Ardbegs ever released. There's definitely some sherry action on the finish, with roasted earth and dark cocoa accents, with even a bit of coffee bean. It's unlike any of the other whiskies they make, so it's definitely worth picking up in my book. It's nice to have something under 50% every now and again that isn't lacking for intensity in any way.

Ardbeg "Perpetuum" Limited Edition Single Malt Whisky 750ml $99.99 - The 2015 limited edition Ardbeg release is here, and from what we've heard, Dr. Bill Lumsden dug deep into Ardbeg's remaining stocks of past projects and blended some of them with younger stocks of future projects to create a whisky showcasing both old and new single malt whiskies. Here are the notes from Ardbeg: "The past, present, and future in a glass. Classic notes of Ardbeg's yesteryear on the nose as mellow, rich, and enticing Ardbeggian flavors mingle with dark chocolate, treacle, and nutty oak. Then, like standing on Ardbeg's pier this morning, water brings forth briny sea-spray with a pine resin lime top note for a remarkably fresh bouquet. On the palate, robust peat smoke and savory smoky bacon meet creamy sweet vanilla, milk chocolate with the hint of sherry casks, culminating in a taste of the future…and aftertaste that is never ending."

-David Driscoll

Thursday
May282015

Oaxaca 2015: Day 4 – Los Danzantes - Part II

It was in Coyoacán, a well-to-do neighborhood of Mexico City, that Jaime and Gustavo Muñoz opened their first Los Danzantes restaurant; not too far from Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul. The two brothers (identical twins) wanted to showcase the quality of fine Mexican cuisine, and that meant sourcing all the best foods along with the best tequilas. The spirits game in Jalisco, however, proved difficult for these two newcomers. In looking to source an exclusive house product neither brother was able to find a reliable or trustworthy source of tequila, of a quality they were happy with. At that time—around 1996—due to a bad burn on a tequila barrel deal, they decided to look towards Oaxaca instead. It wasn’t long before their affection for the region and its potent potion of mezcales took hold. Less than a year later they had purchased a distillery site (a palenque) and begun branding their own spirits under the Danzantes name. Not long after that, a man named Hector Vázquez began collaborating with Jaime in Mexico City on sales of the brand. Both had worked in the field of sports marketing, and Hector figured he could translate that passion over to Mexican spirits as well. The grind of living in D.F., however, was too much, so Hector eventually moved to Barcelona to do his MA in communications. Upon returning to Mexico, he decided to move to Oaxaca—a region he had been fond of while working with the Danzantes mezcales. It didn’t take long before Hector ran into Jaime again, this time at the new Danzantes restaurant recently established downtown. He needed a job and his old friend Jaime was happy to oblige.

Jaime originally offered Hector the manager position at the restaurant, but Hector had grown tired of the restaurant lifestyle. He had spent the last few years washing dishes while finishing school, so he wanted to try something different. “What if you manage the distillery instead?” Jaime asked. Hector was intrigued. At this time, the Alipus project was just getting started and Danzantes had begun working with remote producers in Santiago, San Juan del Rio, and Santa Ana del Rio. Hector began driving out to the villages to buy the mezcales in bulk, then haul them back to Jaime’s apartment where they would ultimately fill the bottles by hand. After watching this fly-by-night mezcal operation cut corners and costs to stay profitable, Hector decided he should help streamline the operation. He was integral in building a new production center at the distillery site, with a real bottling team, and he started working with chefs in other restaurants to increase the sales output beyond Danzantes. Mezcal wasn’t all that popular in the early 2000s. It was the Armagnac of Mexico—maybe you’d see one or two selections at the bottom of the vast tequila list—so getting on to the menu at top restaurants wasn’t easy. Reposado and añejo were the drinks of choice, so Hector and Jaime decided they should make their own aged versions of Danzantes to compete. That’s when their mezcal business really began to blossom.

If Hector was going to be an effective manager, judging the work of his distillers and problem-shooting their methods, he was going to have to learn more about alcohol production. He began studying wine as a primer (because wine really is the closest thing to mezcal). He stopped smoking in order to improve his taste. He began learning more about chemistry, and through this realized that the wood-fired stills at the distillery could be changed to gas to maximize control of the process. The change was made and the spirits Danzantes produced instantly became cleaner and more focused. For the next ten years, Hector would run the production of all the Danzantes mezcales, including the management of the remote producers from whom they were contracting, while continuing to increase his knowledge of disitllation. In 2012, however, he fell in love with an Italian woman, got married, and moved to Italy. His protege, the current head of production Karina Abad, would take over the management job from then on. Even drinking fine Italian wines and living along the Mediterranean couldn’t keep Hector’s mind off of mezcal, however. Only a few years after leaving, he would move back to Oaxaca, return to Danzantes, and this time take a job as director of commercialization. Now Hector is the guy flying around the world, building markets, forming new relationships, and using his detailed and nuanced background to educate, and open new hearts and minds to mezcal globally. He’s an incredible ambassador for Oaxaca and its diverse set of distilled spirits.

When you walk around Oaxaca City with Hector, there’s no one he doesn’t know. As we hopped from bar to bar yesterday, we’d stroll down a side street where Hector would shake hands with a number of country farmers in town to handle some business. We’d grab a bite to eat and Hector would greet the entire kitchen staff as we ordered. When getting drinks, the bartender would almost always leave the bar to come around and offer Hector a huge hug of friendship. Everyone likes this guy—and more importantly they respect him. He’s been a salesman, worked in the restaurant, managed the distillery, spearheaded new production, created lasting relationships with important growers, and acted as a mentor to the villagers who collaborate with his company. Besides the Oaxacan Alipus selections, there’s now an entirely new set of regional agave spirits from Sonora, Michoacan, Durango, and Guerrero under the label. They’re not for sale in the U.S., but I got a chance to try them at the Danzantes store and they’re outstanding. Hector is one of the main people moving the company forward, anchoring the business, and working closely with Karina to create exciting new projects. I’m telling you all this about Hector because it’s important to understand the people behind these products. I didn’t think anyone could be nicer and more charming than Karina after I first met her, but Hector is right there with her neck and neck. I am utterly excited to begin working with both of these people on new mezcal projects between Danzantes and K&L; not only because I’ve never met two professionals with more knowledge about the product, but also because I’ve rarely met people in this business with whom I get along so well. I felt like I was hanging out with old friends as we ate dinner late last night. I didn’t want the night to end, and I definitely did not want to head home today. 

While Gustavo and Jaime were the original driving forces of the Danzantes restaurants, the mezcal side of the business is being handled mostly by these two incredible people. You can see why everything about the Danzantes brand is amazing—the quality, the creativity, the packaging, and the pricing. You’ve got two highly-intelligent people who really know what they’re doing behind this brand. I can’t wait to get back to the store tomorrow and begin selling more of their stuff because it makes me so happy knowing exactly who made these mezcales. I want to convey that story to my customers. This was a fantastic trip, but most of what made it great were the people. A big thank you to everyone from Danzantes who helped make it happen—Marcelo and Lorena, too—and I hope to see you all again soon.

-David Driscoll