A Week of Tequila

Since I received so much positive feedback (mostly from non-vodka drinkers) about last week's vodka series, I decided I'd do the same thing this week with tequila. No other spirit has inspired me more over the last few months and no other drink has filled me with as much wonder and curiosity. This is mainly due to the advancements made in quality and production methods, mirroring many of the changes we've seen in the wine industry over the last two decades -- the same dynamic changes that inspired me to quit teaching to work in a wine shop. Wine appreciation has gone from merely enjoying the flavors of different grapes to understanding the influence of the land itself upon them -- terroir, as the French say. Part of the fun comes from knowing that only grapes grown in this particular type of soil, in this particular climate, in this particular part of the world can taste this way. That is, as long as the vintner doesn't fuck everything up by adding all kinds of new oak and designer yeasts during fermentation.

The idea of minimalist wine making, or "hands off" production, has become very fashionable over the past five years; stemming from the mindset that we should do as little as possible to alter the pure flavor within the grape itself. Look at Burgundy, for example, where grapes from one plot of land might cost ten times as much as grapes from another -- despite only being fifty yards apart on the same hillside. There are vineyard maps, geographical documents, and soil charts that point out which parcels have the potential for greatness and decide which wines are superior -- before the wine has even been made!! And this is all concerning a fruit that grows not under the ground, but on the vine -- far above the soil itself. The terroir is said to make its way into the grape via the roots and the stems, ultimately expressing itself within the juice.

Terroir is a tough sell to many wine customers already, let alone spirits consumers. The idea of geography and climate playing such an important role in a wine's flavor is sweeping and romantic, but suspicious if it results in a higher price tag. "I'm paying an extra $10 a bottle to taste earth?" When you distill that flavor out of the wine and into a brandy that spends twenty years in French oak, terroir isn't only tough to sell, it's also difficult to taste under all that wood. Terroir in whiskey? Good luck. Terroir in rum? Not when you're distilling from molasses. But what about tequila? Blanco tequila specifically. Not only does tequila come from a plant that grows in the ground, but more importantly, from a piña that actually grows within the ground. The agave piña itself spends six to eight years developing its flavors within various types of soils: rocky, gravelly, volcanic, mineral-rich. It might be said that an agave plant, even more so than a grape, is prone to flavors of terroir due to its actual, physical contact with the tierra itself.

I've already begun the dialogue about terroir and tequila this week by spending an hour on the phone with Siembra Azul's David Suro -- a man who strongly believes in agriculture's role within the flavor and quality of a tequila. That conversation is available to everyone via our podcast archive. However, I'm still looking for more clarity. How exactly does terroir affect the specific flavors of a tequila? What exactly makes an agave piña fruity, floral, spicy, peppery, or tangy? How can consumers use this information to help them choose a tequila that speaks to them? More importantly, why should anyone care about terroir in tequila in the first place? By shedding some more light on the producers who are actively working to express the intricate flavors of their agave, I think we can understand how the industry itself has developed to this point and where it still might take us.

Stay tuned!

-David Driscoll


We Know You've Been Waiting Patiently

The Bay Area's most popular gin is back for round three. How does this one stack up against the last two?

Faultline Gin Batch #3 $34.99 -- How does one follow up two of the most popular batches of gin ever sold in the history of K&L? It's been tough coming up with that act. Even my own mother was trying to exert her parental influence, hoping to convince Dave Smith and I to do a second batch of Batch #2 -- our lovely smoked citrus peel delight. We held fast, however, determined to make each batch of Faultline a one-time-only edition in the name of soldiering forward towards new flavors and new ideas. We originally began the blueprint of Batch #3 with melon in mind. We wanted to make a softer, rounder, fruitier style of gin, but two things happened that prevented this approach: our melon distillates left a lot to be desired and Tanqueray resurrected their similarly-styled Malacca gin. Dave and I went back to the drawing board. Both of us have been trying to create a grapefruit aperitif for the past year so we had a well of grapefruit spirit to take from. Dave had also finished a batch of clove-macerated spirit that might pair quite well with the citrus. A few gin-soaked nights later we had the right balance - lot's of grapefruit, highlighted with the bright, herbaceous note of fresh clove and accented with pepper and juniper. It's still gin and tonic season in the Bay Area, so this should take us through October. Try mixing a Greyhound or Corpse Reviver #2 as well. You'll be pleased.

-David Driscoll


K&L Spirits Journal Podcast #26 – David Suro

I first met David Suro a little more than a month ago when he visited K&L on behalf of his tequila brand Siembra Azul. We were supposed to meet for about ten minutes, taste through the portfolio, and go about our days. Over an hour later, David and I were still talking in the tasting bar about the agriculture of agave, the history of distillation, and the possibility of creating a terroir-based map of Jalisco's agave fields. David represents his Siembra Azul tequilas in the same way that I want to sell tequila at K&L: armed with information concerning where the agave plants were sourced, how they were harvested, how they were fermented, how they were distilled, and ultimately how all of these factors impact flavor. If you're even remotely interested in tequila, this might be the conversation that lights a fire under your feet and sends you on your own educational journey. David Suro is quite a fountain of information. We talk geography, production, and the possibility of changing the world's known history of distillation with recent discoveries in Colima.

You can listen to the podcast via the embedded media player above or by downloading the episode here. You can also download the episode via our iTunes directory. Previous episodes are archived on Libsyn and can be found using the link on the right-hand margin of the blog.

More information about David's Siembra Azul products can be found on his website here. K&L carries all three tequilas:

Siembra Azul Blanco Tequila $37.99

Siembra Azul Reposado Tequila $42.99

Siembra Azul Añejo Tequila $49.99

-David Driscoll


Too Connected?

A few days ago a friend sent me an email saying that whiskey was getting to be like concert tickets (an analogy I've made before concerning price increases, but never availability), in that you can never get the seats you want before the scalpers buy them all up and sell them for triple the price. I thought about that for a few minutes and replied back in agreement. But then I thought about that a bit more.

My wife mentioned that The Breeders were playing at the Fillmore this week and that maybe we should go. I checked last minute -- sold out. That seemed rather crazy to me. I saw The Breeders numerous times back in the 1990s and never had any problems getting a ticket. In fact, often they were simply opening for another band, like Primus or Sonic Youth, and most people would be getting a drink while they played. Then I thought further about that. I really never had a problem getting a ticket for anything back in the 90s. I simply got to the Ticketmaster outlet early, waited in line, got my seats, and went about my day. Usually there wasn't much competition either because, without the internet, you had to be pretty devout to know the onsale dates.

Today is a different story, however. Today you've gotta get online, login, and press your mouse button quickly to snag seats for anything -- and that's just to get the seats that are left over after Amex Rewards members and corporate CEOs snag the first ten rows. But that's not really my issue. In the case of The Breeders, this was a general admission show in a fairly large venue. There should have been plenty of space, even last minute for this show. Yet the floor was completely sold out. Rock and roll music has always been popular and going to concerts isn't some fun new activity; however, I'm starting to feel as if more people are going to concerts than ever before. I'm feeling that way because shows that shouldn't be hard to get into are suddenly a major event (even for little independent acts at Bottom of the Hill, or Slim's).

This exact same phenomenon is happening with whiskey right now. Whiskies that were never popular before are suddenly becoming hot items. I remember wondering what to do with leftover bottles of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon five years ago. Now I'm getting ten emails a day asking about when we'll get this year's allocation. Why are people wondering about the OFBB? And why are The Breeders suddenly selling out concerts fifteen years after they were in their prime? The internet. There's nothing like instant information to help create a bigger demand.

It's no coincidence that my spike in Old Forester requests coincided with the release of several favorable blog reviews of this year's release. The internet's impact on whiskey's demand is completely correlated, just like the ease of Robert Parker's pointed reviews (pun intended) helped to increase the consumption of wine. After reading a positive review people suddenly want something they never knew they wanted before. Before whiskey blogs became a big deal the general public didn't really know specifically what they should be looking for. Now they do, which sucks for the people who genuinely want these things. Instead of being able to simply do what it is you've until now taken for granted, you're now being forced to compete with thousands of casual interests -- as in "I've never heard of the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon before, but now it sounds like I should get one."

I did a search for "The Breeders" and, of course, I found an article literally called "Go Do This" -- a San Francisco-centered site for people looking for something cool to do. Now it all made sense. What should we do tonight? We should see The Breeders! Apparently this is the cool thing to do in San Francisco, so we need to be there. What should we be drinking this week? What should we be wearing this summer? Where should we eat tomorrow? Look it up on the internet because there's an answer! This is the reason why you have to wait an hour to eat brunch at the most-reviewed Yelp cafes. This is the reason you can't get tickets to the Book of Mormon. This is the reason I couldn't go see The Breeders last week. And, yes, this is the reason you'll likely have a tough time getting a bottle of Birthday Bourbon from K&L this year.

The internet is telling people what to do and people are listening. Sure, we can get information with ease, but now that info is finding its way to a much larger audience. Facebooking, Tweeting, Instagraming, and blogging. We're all responsible for our own frustrations.

-David Driscoll


New K&L Exclusive Baraillon Armagnac

Another boat has just landed in Oakland and our latest container of Armagnac was on board. This time, we've got four new expressions from one of our most popular producers -- now with some more affordable options. We know that the 1985 Baraillon has been a huge hit with our customers, so it's time to dip into some of the younger expressions from the Claverie family.

Baraillon 10 Year Old K&L Exclusive  Armagnac $52.99After so much success with the older vintage Armagnacs from Domaine de Baraillon, we thought it was time to introduce you to their younger selections. This 10 year old marriage of brandies was created specifically for K&L and offers the richer, rounder mouthfeel, but without the big burst of caramel. It's more vinous, more oily, more earthy in style and rounder on the finish. Compared to our other selections this one is far more gentle. It's a great entry level foray into country Armagnac as it's entirely unpolished in style. This tastes like it was made on a farm in the middle of the country by a rustic family who might also have chickens and pigs. And guess what: it was!!

1998 Baraillon K&L Exclusive Folle Blanche Vintage Armagnac $69.99We've expanded our selection from one of our favorite Armagnac producers: Domaine de Baraillon. After the success of last year's 1985 vintage brandy, we wanted to introduce you to their younger Folle Blanche selections. This 15 year old Armagnac is distilled from 100% Folle Blanche and exhibits that same unctuous, rich, caramel-laden profile but with more spice and a dusty finish. It's a big time crowd-pleaser of an Armagnac, the kind of thing that will taste good to your great uncle Larry, but still scratch that spirits geek itch in the back of your throat. One heckuva deal as well since we brought it in directly.

1893 Baraillon K&L Exclusive Vintage Armagnac $2499.99 – What happened in 1893? The great northern railway connected Seattle with the East Coast. Grover Cleveland was inaugurated for his second term as U.S. president. The Ferris Wheel debuted at the World's Fair in Chicago. Dvoráks New World Symphony premiered at Carnegie Hall. And....the Claverie family distilled this Armagnac at their small farm in Gascony. Made from pre-phylloxera grapes, and distilled by Mr. Claverie's great-grandfather, the 1893 Armagnac from Chateau Baraillon is a family heirloom, a piece of 19th Century history, and one amazing bottle of brandy. Big spice, incredible richness, and lots of spice dominate the palate. The brandy is nuanced, powerful, and almost other-worldly. Maple syrup, exotic spices, lean on the finish and slightly oxidized, but in a good way. But, really, this isn't so much about the flavor, is it? This is a chance to say, "That '93 Armagnac was pretty incredible. Oh....I meant 1893, by the way, not 1993."

1933 Baraillon K&L Exclusive Vintage Armagnac $799.99What happened in 1933? Construction began on the Golden Gate bridge. The United States voted to give the Philippines its independence. Hitler was in charge of Germany. FDR introduced his New Deal. And....the Claverie family distilled this batch of Armagnac at their small farm in Gascony and there it sat until we had it bottled for K&L 80 years later. The 1933 Baraillon has a fragrant nose of spicy ginger with loads of oak barrel accents. The flavors are alive and full of fruit, brimming with wood spices and even a bit of pine or cedar. The finish is almost like sandelwood or incense. This is a historic brandy, incredibily limited, and only available at K&L!

One of my favorite things about the Baraillon Armagnacs is that they taste a little farmy. They're rustic and unpolished, despite their supple richness. But that's authenticity because look at the above picture -- this is the guy who made your brandy, Mr. Claverie. He took off his hat to come taste us on some new expressions, but after we left he went right back out to the barn.

-David Driscoll