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Thursday
Feb282013

Exciting New Stuff From Germain-Robin

Ever since St. George one-upped North Shore and showed that one could successfully sell three different gins, rather than merely two, three has remained the magic number. Local Mendocino distillers Germain-Robin, famous for their California brandy selections, have decided to jump into the gin game as well with three of their own. Under their Craft Distillers label, the portfolio showcases distiller Crispin Cain's contributions to the ever-expanding lineup. The labels and the overall packaging are as elegant as the spriits themselves. Here's a rundown of each gin's particular profile:

Russell Henry London Dry Gin $35.99 - Bright juniper aromas with floral elements and white pepper on the nose. The palate is clean and fresh with vibrancy. Lovely stuff for martinis or just sipping out of the bottle (don't act like you don't do that).

Russell Henry Malaysian Lime Gin $35.99 - The best part about the Malaysian Lime gin is that it isn't overly citrus-oriented. The pith from the lime is apparent, but it marries well with the herbaciousness of the juniper and the spiciness of the pepper. This would be great in almost any cocktail because of its nuance.

Russell Henry Hawaiian White Ginger Gin $35.99 - If you've been making Moscow Mules with vodka, the time for doing that is over. The Hawaiian White Ginger gin is the perfect replacement. While the spice and sizzle of the fresh ginger comes through on both the nose and the finish, the profile isn't dominated by it. This is a very graceful gin that moves over the palate with lithe balance.

Then there's this lovely new selection for you mezcal fans. The Mezcalero series, to me, is without a doubt the finest collection of mezcals I've ever tasted. Nothing from Del Maguey or any other bottler even comes close, in my opinion. Release #5 was one of the most amazing expressions of agave to ever cross my palate. The new #6 release is one of the most challenging, but rewarding as well.

Mezcalero Release #6 Santa Maria la Pila $75.99 - Made from Agaves Mexicano, Madrecuishe, and Bicuishe, the newest batch of mezcal from Craft Distillers is an earthy, savory beast of a spirit. Tangy fermented notes, pepper, with a hint of tropical fruit coming on the finish highlight this tasting experience. Each sampling provides the possibility for new discovery. Sometimes I get hints of banana. Other times I notice smoke and ash. This mezcal is like a chameleon. Another winner.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Feb262013

Help Us Ditch This 42% Maker's Mark

First they were watering it down and people freaked out. Shockwaves were sent across whiskey-drinking America: beginning immediately Marker's Mark distillery was proofing their whiskey to 84 instead of 90. A sales frenzy was born. "Get your bottle of 45% Maker's Mark before it's gone forever!" Loyal consumers ran out and stocked up, thinking it would be their last chance to purchase the iconic 90 proof whiskey. But then, less than a week later, the boys at the distillery changed their minds. Due to the high volume of complaints, they would keep the whiskey at 45% to satisfy their loyal fanbase. But what happened then? Maker's Mark had already begun production on the 42% formula and shipped these bottles out for distribution. Whoops! What a "mistake." Suddenly, anyone who stocked up on the 45% bottle was now a sucker. The 45% formula would remain the standard - it would not be collectable. Too bad you wasted your money! Meanwhile, the 42% booze everyone had been complaining about, the bottle that no one wanted, the whiskey that caused all the uproar was now the collector's item! The joke was on you - the paying customer! Last week I watched retailer after retailer buy into this agenda, using this angle to spark a run on their Maker's inventory. "Come and get your 42% collector's item! Never to be made again! Last chance to own a piece of history!" It was a good way to sell some extra hooch, crafty retailers, but at whose expense?

We say: no thank you.

Want to know how limited this whiskey is? The last time we checked with the distributor there were tons of cases in Southern California alone. Literally thousands upon thousands of bottles just in the southern half of this one state. Not just standard 750ml-sized bottles, but the big 1.75L bottles as well. Turning a mistake into a collector's item is a brilliant idea - especially when you can do it twice! But how rare is the 42% Maker's Mark really when there are pallets sitting nearby in local distribution? It sure makes for clever marketing, this whole "limited run" angle, but what about all those customers who have now bought in twice, thinking this time they were surely getting something collectable? We don't want to be a part of spreading this false message.

We happily sell Maker's Mark whiskey. We have for years. We needed more Maker's Mark in Hollywood this week so David OG ordered another few cases. Unfortunately, they shipped us the "limited edition" 42% whiskey instead of the 45% Bourbon we want to be selling. If Maker's Mark is going to stay at 45% then we'd rather just sell the 45% version and stay out of this retailing monkey business. If you want the Maker's Mark 42% Bourbon, you can have it. For five bucks. That's right. We'd rather lose money on this whiskey and blow it out of here than play into this hand. We love Maker's Mark. We're happy we can continue selling the same old product we've been selling for years. We'd prefer to keep selling it, however, rather than confuse our customers with a weaker version that is not nearly as collectable as it some people are saying it is.

We want it out of here. While supplies last (one bottle limit per person):

Maker's Mark 42% Kentucky Bourbon $5.00

Help us get rid of this imposter so we can get back to selling the real thing. The more things change, the more we stay the same – K&L, that is. We'll dump the 42% bottles for the die-hard collectors and keep the 45% bottles for the die-hard Bourbon fans. That's keeping it real.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Feb262013

The Salon is Back - St. Paddy's Day Rager

Ladies and Gentlemen! We're back for round two! A bigger, badder, longer, and better version of what we did the first time around is about to hit San Mateo on March 17th - St. Patrick's Day!

We decided to start it earlier as well. It is a Sunday, afterall! Beginning at 3 PM we'll be opening our doors to lucky Salon ticketholders for an afternoon of Irish whiskey, Irish beer, Irish food, Irish music, and classic Irish cinema. We're still finalizing the exact menu, but we plan to offer drink cards just like last time around, brimming with fantastic Irish options. We'll have the 2012 Midleton Very Rare on hand for sure, along with some top shelf Cooley selections and most likely a bit of Redbreast. I'm looking to do six whiskies over all, plus include the keg of Guinness into the general addmission price. You're going to get your money's worth. We plan on keeping this up until about 7PM so that gives you plenty of time to try everything at a pace you can handle. You've got all evening to get your mojo back!

The Vault 164 outdid themselves last time with all the food. There was an endless amount of fantastic grub coming out of the kitchen. People were very pleased, as was I. We'll be pumping out the jams and showing some classic films as well on the three big screens. This time around you'll use your finished drink ticket to enter into a raffle for prizes! We've got a few tricks up our sleeves. It's going to be a blast.

Like the Bourbon event, we will have information on all the spirits being poured to peruse at your own leisure, however, the Salon is more about social interaction and entertainment than whiskey education. Just keep that in mind when I start dancing an Irish jig instead of beginning a lecture on triple distillation. This is a party! An all day party! The best kind of party. Don't forget, there's a full bar available for those who don't want the brown stuff.

Are you in?

Full admission tickets are available here for $55 per person.

Guest tickets are available here for $10 per person. The guest admission includes free non-alcoholic drinks for designated drivers and all the food you can stomach. You can also order beer, wine, and cocktails from the full bar.

Let's play some old U2 albums, watch some old Daniel Day Lewis films on mute, and drink some fine Irish hooch!

-David Driscoll

Monday
Feb252013

Adventures on El Camino: Radio Habana

Yesterday was quite a day. Not knowing what to do with the gorgeous weather, my wife and I simply drove along the El Camino route until we reached its San Francisco counterpart: Mission St. There's a lot to do in this wonderful neighborhood, especially when the sun is out. There are new places to eat and drink popping up every week it seems like and sometimes those locations can be impromptu. We mostly bounced between many very familiar, popular, non-hole-in-the-wall type places, however, as I was not planning on more AoEC research. Hog and Rocks where we had some jamón and oysters. Cafe Revolution for some sangria and people watching. Beretta for pizza and punch (and a random encounter with my old Epic sales rep Mike Smith that resulted in a delightful lunch double-date). Tacolicious for dinner and a michelada.

As we cut over a block from Mission St. on our way out of the Revolution, we noticed some activity coming out of a small room near the corner of 22nd and Valencia. There was music, excitement, and festivity. There was a party going on!

Being a few sheets to the wind at this point, we went in without even thinking about it. In a tiny space, maybe twelve by seven feet, was a group of Cuban-Americans playing drums, singing, and clapping to the beat. A small gang of onlookers gathered near the bar by the front door. On the counter was a bowl of tortilla chips available to anyone in need of a snack. The fridge contained a few import bottles of beer and a pitcher of sangria. The tap had one beer: Anchor Steam. I had a pint while my wife had a glass of the fruit-macerated wine. We didn't plan on staying too long. Just one drink. Three pints later we were speaking Spanish, dancing, and talking to some of the men about our longing to visit Cuba. "Necessitas visitar mi hermana," said the man with the red hat from the top photo. "Va a cocinar una fiesta grande por tí, pero no vive in Habana." Our new friend Francisco was already telling us to stay with his sister when we went and that, if we did, she would cook for us – a huge feast!

He eventually left us to rejoin the singing (which you can see in the above video). We eventually made our way up Valencia to a gigantic bartending competition with all my friends in it (yet, I had no idea it was happening – another completely fortuitous encounter). The hour we spent at the Radio Habana Club was truly fantastic. It was different. It was exciting. It was friendly and welcoming to everyone who wanted to come and join in, as well. I wish more places like this existed further south along El Camino Real, but sometimes you have to travel further down the Royal Road for new experiences. Simple options. Simple appetizers. A bit of live music. And then you're on your way.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Feb242013

What Excites You About Drinking?

Every time I get excited about a new spirit I've tasted, I can't help but link that experience to the overall culture from where the product is from. I have total ADD with my focus, as well. That's part of the fun when you drink spirits from all over the world. It's the classic Stuff White People Like #20. I'll get so excited about drinking the new Bruichladdich that I'll immediately want to drive out to Pescadero, sit on the beach, and pretend it's the cold, grey water of the Atlantic washing up on the shores of the outer Hebrides. I'll want to eat a plate of haggis while sipping a pint in an old pub. I'll want to watch Sean Connery movies and listen to the Cocteau Twins and research my family's ancestry in Motherwell. Until I taste a new tequila, that is.

Suddenly, I'm no longer Scottish. I'm actually Mexican (by default since I married into the family). I want to watch telanovelas (Amores Verdaderos) and make carnítas and listen to Julieta Venegas. I want to walk down to Chavez Market and joke with the guys I see for lunch everyday. I want to recap old Chavo del 8 episodes with my co-worker Jorge. I love tequila and I love Mexican culture! When are we going to Guadalajara? What's that? Try what? That new Cognac that Nic Palazzi just imported?

Oh shit! That's delicious! Borderies, you say? What are these tacos doing here? I never said I wanted tacos! I want a baguette, some cheese, a glass of red Burgundy and some old Edith Piaf in the background. Let's watch an old Godard movie - Le Femme est une Femme. I love Anna Karina even though she's Danish. Did you know my old film professor worked with Godard? Here have some more Cognac. Let's get a ticket to Paris! We can make it! It's far, but we can totally get there and back before we have to work on Monday. Come on! Try what? Rum? I thought we were drinking Cognac?

Paris is way too cold this time of year. I need to be on the beach, man! I need a tropical drink and a beer chaser. Rum is amazing. It's so affordable and has such a fascinating history! I don't know what I was thinking wasting all that time with stuffy French culture. It's so uptight! I just want to lay back and have fun, man. Put on some reggae and let's dance!

-David Driscoll