Thursday
Jun272013

La Vida Loca

When I first tasted through my samples of Dulce Vida 100 proof tequila, I was not impressed. The supplier had stopped by to let me know about the new arrival, left me some 50ml sample-sized bottles to try out, and hoped I would call with an order later that afternoon. I never made the call. When he checked back in later that week to get my opinion, I told him I wasn't a huge fan of the spirit. It was all heat and no finish. My sales rep was totally flummoxed. Everyone seemed to think the new Dulce Vida tequilas were out of this world except me. What was the issue?

It turns out that the sample bottles I had been left were from an older batch - a test run. My guy asked if he could come back again with fresh, full-sized bottles and have me try them over. "Sure, why not?" I said. It turns out there was a difference in the two batches. A huge difference. The spirits in the mini bottles tasted like more subpar, unexciting, flash-in-the-pan, upstart tequila that I would not be interested in carrying. The tequilas in the full-sized bottles were flavorful, vibrant, full-of-life, and clean.

I was happy to place an order after such a turnaround.

Dulce Vida is another American brand, like our friends at Campeon, that has decided to contract tequila out of Jalisco according to their specifications. The spirit is distilled at NOM 1443 - Grupo Industrial Tequilero - a facility that makes a number of different brands, Don Pilar being the one most K&L customers would be familiar with. According to the supplier, Dulce Vida is sourcing their own Highland-sourced, organic agave for distillation and making sure the spirit has absolutely zero additives. The higher standards definitely result in a higher quality of tequila. I was afraid the 100 proof level would destroy the nuance of the spirit, but it actually doesn't. The spice and the fruit still come through in all three expressions.

All three are price at ArteNOM levels and provide a refreshing alternative for those looking to try something new.

Dulce Vida Blanco Tequila $39.99 - White pepper, baking spices, citrus, and lots of power. This is for those who like it spicy instead of smooth.

Dulce Vida Reposado Tequila $45.99 - Cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and spice cake intermingling with black pepper on the finish. Robust and flavorful.

Dulce Vida Anejo Tequila $49.99 - Just the right amount of wood without any of the caramel or toffee that infiltrate some of the more "adulterated" anejo tequilas. This has nuance and character in addition to extra richness.

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Jun272013

Either Nothing's Good Anymore or You're Old

I called my old pal Ben yesterday evening while driving home during the rush hour commute. Sometimes the car ride between my house and work is the only time I have to catch up with my family and friends, so I try to make good use of it. Ben and I will usually talk about wrestling right off the bat because it's something we grew up together watching. Most of the time we express our disappointment with the current state of the industry before getting nostalgic about the glorious matches of the past. We're definitely not connecting with the WWE the way we once did and Ben is as sarcastic about it as anyone.

"Did you watch the Antonio Cesaro match against Kane a few weeks back?" I asked.

"Yeah, it was good, but then the WWE had him lose his next three matches, so what was the point? They buried him and all that momentum was for nothing," he replied. "I don't have any faith in their ability to build new stars anymore."

As we get older, and pop culture continues to change, it seems like most people I know follow a similar pattern concerning their feelings for modernity – namely, that nothing's as good as it used to be. Look at music, for example. I remember one of my high school teachers, who was in his thirties at that time, talking about how all great music died in the 1980s. The music of the 1990s did nothing for him; neither the grunge revolution of rock and roll, nor the fertile years of LA gangster rap could capture his heart. Meanwhile, Ben and I look back on the 1990s with a longing nostalgia.

"The 1990s are coming back," I said to him. "The guy who served me my coffee the other morning looked just like Kurt Cobain and he must have been 19 years old."

"I wish there was at least one new band that sounded 90s-ish," he added. "I can't think of one album that I've bought over the last year that I really enjoyed."

I had to agree with Ben on this point. I, too, have been entirely disappointed with much of the new music I've purchased this year. Many of my favorite bands have released new material (The Flaming Lips, Depeche Mode, Deerhunter), but they just didn't do it for me.

"Here's my question though for you, Ben:" I stated, "Is it really the case that pop music isn't good anymore, or are we just getting old and out of touch?"

I honestly believe that the current state of popular music is in a terrible place, but I'm not sure if I feel that way because it actually is, or if it's because I no longer have any connection to the youth movement of the modern age. Music in general just isn't as important to me as it used to be. The same goes for wrestling. I've always told myself this is because the quality of both has declined and that I would re-engage when something new and innovative came along, but this day has never come unfortunately. Now I just sound like another boring, stale adult who says things like, "What the hell are those kids listening to today? It's all crap if you ask me!"

"I try not to buy new albums anymore because I only listen to them once or twice before moving on," Ben added.

"Yes! This is a serious problem for me too!" I exclaimed. "I see this with whiskey right now as well. No one's ever satisfied with their one bottle for very long. We've got an attention span of a few days before we're over it and on to the next new thing." I answered.

Much like with my views on pop culture, I've struggled with whether my lack of lasting interest in new music is due to adult-onset ADHD or simply the fact that I don't have time to care anymore. I bought the latest Vampire Weekend album when it came out on iTunes, listened to it about four times while running, and then went right back to the Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine. I remember when I would listen to a new album non-stop for months! How else would it be that I can still sing every word from Pavement's Wowee Zowee or Dr. Dre's The Chronic? Now I've got about a week's worth of attention span before I'm done caring about whatever I've purchased. I'm constantly in need of new input to find some sort of happiness these days.

Again, I drew a parallel to whiskey.

"So maybe it's the case that we've just reached an age where nothing satisfies us anymore?" I asked. "Maybe we just see everything from the past as a 'golden age' and everything from here on is doomed to disappoint? So we keep searching, trying to recreate that same high, but ultimately we're just junkies who will never get back to that one magical feeling?"

"I honestly don't know," Ben replied. "I've never actually thought about it that way."

Has anyone else noticed a similar pattern with their whiskey drinking? Namely, that nothing new is ever as good as it once was? There's something magical about our formitive years, be it the discovery of rock and roll, punk, or rap music, that triggers a level of excitement in our brains – a high that we'll never be able to replicate later in life. For many of us with music, this time is during high school, a period when we're looking for anyway to connect with others and define ourselves by our interests and passions. Music, movies, books, and fashion have so much more meaning during those years, to the point that some people never progress beyond them. That's why you'll still see guys with teased bangs, mullets, earrings, and skin tight jeans in their 50s. To them, the Sunset Strip never died.

With alcohol, however, this moment arrives later in life – for myself, along with many of my peers and colleagues, it occured sometime between 2005 and 2009. Yet, now that we're in 2013, you'll hear the same type of disappointment with the current state of whiskey affairs: the quality of whiskey has gone down, the prices have gone up, nothing's as good as it used to be, etc. These criticisms may be entirely true (much like my criticisms with the current state of wresting and pop music are true to me), yet they might also be emblematic of the fact that our tastes are no longer representative of the mainstream market. Namely: you might simply be out of touch.

"No, no, no, David, that's not the case. I still love whiskey, but I'm not going to pay these prices: 12 year old whiskey going for what an 18 year old used to cost. It's ridiculous! Back in 2005 you could still get Macallan 18 for $70!!!" you might be saying as you read this. Yet, isn't that what old people say about every new generation's culture? That things aren't as good as they used to be? That when they were young soda used to cost a nickel? That no one appreciates quality anymore?

"With music," Ben said, "I don't know if I even want innovation or if I want my favorite bands from the 1990s to just make records that sound like they used to. Of course, if they did that, I'd probably just compare it against their old music and say it isn't as good as it used to be!"

"So true!" I exclaimed.

You can't win for trying with many whiskey drinkers today. Look at Ardbeg, for example. They tried something new with last year's Galileo release by aging it in marsala casks. Many people weren't thrilled with the new flavor profile. "Why can't they just make something that tastes like old-fashioned Ardbeg?" they asked. So Ardbeg listened and created this year's Ardbog, a more traditional expression in a classic package. "This isn't as good as the Alligator," people immediately said. Maybe the Ardbog wasn't as good as past distillery releases. Or maybe the people who didn't like it weren't going to like it no matter what it tasted like. I'm not sure we'll ever know for certain.

"This isn't as good as it used to be." I said that about the new Depeche Mode record. I said that about the new Flaming Lips record. I say that about hip-hop music practically every day. Nothing is as good as it used to be.

Is it possible that some whiskey drinkers have reached this evolutionary stage with their own passion for the aged spirit?

Is whiskey really not as good as it used to be, or are we simply losing the luster of our formitive years?

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Jun262013

Building Your Bar: 2013 Summer Edition

I haven't done this for a while, but due to the amount of emails I've been getting about recommendations and advise, I thought it might be time for another edition of "Building Your Home Bar" - the column where I let you know what I would drink and you can decide if that's what you want to drink too. Remember, that BYHB is only based on my own personal opinion and not meant to be the gospel truth or final word on what's good in the world of booze. The K&L Spirits Journal always fluctuates between travel blog, news release, customer info, salesmanship, philosophy, and personal opinion. This would fall into the latter category.

So what's good right now?

Single Malt Whisky

HIGH END: K&L's Mortlach 22 Year Old or the MacKinlay's "The Journey" Blended Single Malt. If you want the big sherry flavor, the mature wood, the big spice, and the richness of two decades in first-fill splendor, then it's definitely worth splurging on the Mortlach. The only people who haven't loved it are the people who don't like big sherry, and even they still like it. For something lighter, it's really tough to beat the nuanced flavor of the MacKinlay. There's nothing this soft and fruity with peat right now and I can't help but find every sip simply charming. Some people don't like the gimmickry, which is fine, but there's good whisky in that package either way.

MIDDLE ROAD: This is a tough category right now because everything seems to be really expensive or a super bargain. Either it's super rare, or it's so competitive of a product that everyone is struggling to be the low-price leader. Many of my favorite mid-range whiskies are currently sold out from distribution. Things like Aberlour 16 and Glendronach 15. There's always great booze to be found at Bruichladdich. The 10 year old standard edition and the Port Charlotte 10 are fantastic choices for any aspiring Islay fan, offering both the richness and the peat if you want it. We still have a little bit of Glen Garioch 14 Single Barrel as well for those looking for the malty goodness of the Highlands. I still think the Aberlour 12 NCF Edition is as good as it gets for $50 right now - it's so chewy and rich. I'm also really enjoying my bottle of the standard Longrow right now.

VALUE: Now that we have the Glenrothes Select Reserve back in stock that's a solid choice at $35. Glenmorangie 10 as well, but that's not quite as exciting. For blended whisky there's still no beating the Bank Note at $19.99 a liter.

American Whiskey

HIGH END: Nothing. There is no high-end American whiskey right now because it's gone - it's been drunk or it's sitting in a collector's basement. You also might find some at an out-of-the-way corner store that no one knows about. Whatever the reason, it's not here at K&L, so I've got nothing for you.

MIDDLE ROAD: High West's Rendezvous Rye is still delicious and less than $50. I've actually become quite enamored with Blanton's lately, although that may be just a phase. Maker's 46 is quite surprising in its qualtiy seeing that I'm not typically a fan of the standard edition. Same goes for the Knob Creek Reserve.

VALUE: Most of what I'm drinking falls into this category. If you managed to snag one of the Henry McKenna 10 Year Old bottles we had a few weeks back, that's about as good as it gets in my mind. I drank that again last night while watching the Mad Men season finale on my DVR and marveled over how good that whiskey was. In the meantime, if you can find something better than Old Weller Antique, Buffalo Trace, Evan Williams Single Barrel or Four Roses Small Batch for the money, let me know.

Tequila

HIGH END: Nothing worth talking about right now.

MIDDLE ROAD: You don't need to pay more than $50 to drink great tequila. Anything from ArteNom, Ocho, or Gran Dovejo should make you very happy, as long as you're not looking for caramel coloring or vanilla. The lower mid-range prices of Campeon also offer a lot of bang for the buck.

VALUE: Calle 23 definitely brings the flavor for about $22-$25 a bottle. Espolon is fine if you're in a pinch for margaritas.

Rum

HIGH END: I still think that the Ron Abuelo Centuria is one of the better and most impressive sippers around. The El Dorado 21 is also quite nice.

MIDDLE ROAD: This depends on what you're looking for and what your intent is, either an agricole mixer or something nice to sip on its own, but I really like the Barbancourt 15, the new Banks 7 Year Reserve, and the Mount Gay Extra Old for versatility. They mix well, but also drink nicely with ice.

VALUE: Our new cask of Mount Gay Black Barrel #1107 is unstoppable for the money. Lots of flavor and spice for $26. You'll drink the whole bottle in two days.  Blanco mixers will still find the El Dorado 3 as the benchmark for Daiquiris.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Jun252013

Peatin' Meetin' is a Comin'

We here at K&L are all about supporting the the local whisky lovin' community. With so few opportunities to familiarize yourself with the vast world of whisky, I always like to make a point of providing our readers with information regarding special events that they might enjoy, even if K&L is not a sponsor. Soon begins without question one of the year's most fun, interesting and informative events available to SoCal whisky lovers. My dear friends at the LA Scotch Club work tirelessly to provide everyone willing to huff it out to UCLA and pony up $100 an unforgettable experience. So here's the deal.

LA’s peated whisky festival, Peatin' Meetin', is coming to UCLA campus this Saturday, June 29th. Many of you are familiar with Islay’s famous smoky, earthy flavored malt and if that reek makes you weak this is the party for you. This huge annual gathering, presented by the LA Scotch Club, celebrates peated whisky from around the world and even serves up peat smoked BBQ for all the lovers of that smoldering smell. Peatin’ Meetin’ is not a traditional whisky tasting, but instead an entertaining celebration. It does not occur in a stuffy exhibition hall, but outside on the UCLA picnic grounds. Live Celtic rock bands will perform as grass-fed NY strip is smoked over authentic peat fires. Even the peated cocktails from Seven Grand's mixologists are included with admission.

But Peatin’ Meetin’ is really about tasting a lot of great whisky. Over 50 unique bottles, many old favorites, many were not released in the United States, and even some American craft distilleries will be there to show off their peaty prowess.

In addition, both Single Cask Nation and Whisky Magazine will offer special discounts exclusively for attendees of Peatin’ Meetin’. Ireland Earth will showcase their new imported peat briquettes, which you can start using for all your fumy fuel needs. Over four hours of whisky tasting, dinner, and all of the extras for only $100.  If you're attending but not tasting whisky you can get in for $40. And the whole thing can be accessed through your smart phone on The Peetin' Meetin' App!!! Crazy...

Please make sure that if you attend you've got someone to drive you or you have your UBER account set up. It's extremely important that everyone who attends is 100% safe at all times.

While you're at it, be sure to sign this petition to keep UBER, Lyft and other new wave car services running in the LA Area. It is an important issue for all the sporting classes to have access to safe affordable transportation.

Highlights:

• Unlimited peated whisky

• Peat-smoked NY Strip (grass fed)

• Live music by Celtic rock bands - the Brick Top Blaggers and Green Ashes

• An engraved “Perfect Dram” whisky glass

• Peated cocktails by the mixologists from downtown LA’s Seven Grand

• Meet the Peat Monster

• Smartphone app for event and bottle information, personal notes, and grading

• Sponsor discounts from the likes of Whisky Magazine, Single Cask Nation, and Ireland Earth

Tickets may be purchased at www.peatinmeetin.com

-David Othenin-Girard

Monday
Jun242013

Beer and Clothing in Las Vegas

I looked up "vega" in the online Spanish dictionary and it means "a flat and fertile plain or valley." That should mean that the name Las Vegas refers to several flat and fertile plains or valleys, yet all I see from my window at the Trump Hotel is desert. Mountains to the right, the strip at dead center, with more mountains to the left. I'm definitely positioned within a valley, but I'm not sure how fertile it is, or ever was, for agriculture and wildlife. One thing that does grow in Las Vegas, however, is money and I'm not even referring to the gambling. My wife and I usually fly to New York once a year for vacation and end up doing a bit of shopping while we're there. It's New York, so there are boutiques and small shops literally everywhere. Lately, however, we've mainly used Manhattan for walking, eating, and catching a few shows. Ever since we started coming to Vegas, we've been doing the bulk of our purchasing at the carnival of outlets mainlining through the strip. Nowhere else are there so many stores, with so much merchandise, in so concentrated of an area.

Today is my third day in Sin City and I awoke with a great excitement when I learned that All Saints would be having a huge sale this morning. I'm very particular about my denim, mainly because I have a thin waist with large legs, making my search for the perfect fit a bit more difficult. My jeans have to be cut just right and when I find some that are tailored perfectly, I'm willing to pay - a lot. It's not so different from how many of my customers feel about whiskey - they know exactly what they're looking for and how difficult it can sometimes be to find it. As with spirits, there are designer brands that will deliver both the style and the quality for the money. Some deliver only one of the two. Many offer neither, yet charge you as if they did. It takes time, experience, and a few failures to ultimately understand what you're paying for when it comes to good denim, as it does with good whiskey. In many ways, shopping for designer jeans is not unlike shopping for a nice bottle of booze.

I decided to take a cab over to the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where the huge All Saints store is located, and hike the couple miles back for some exercise. I hailed a taxi in front of the lobby and slid into the back seat. My driver's name was Mimiko and she had beautifully vibrant skin with an African accent.

"Where are you from originally?" she asked after I told her my destination.

"San Francisco," I replied. "Where are you from originally?"

"Kenya," she answered, but I had already guessed Kenya. East Africans have absolutely the most beautiful cheek bones in the entire world. Mimiko's face gave her away.

"How often do you get home to visit?" I asked.

"Once a year. It's a long flight."

"Where do you connect through?" I inquired.

"London," she said. "Only one stop to Nairobi with British Airways."

Another thing that flourishes in Las Vegas is hospitality. I've never had so many friendly conversations with complete strangers than I have in my last few days here. Spending the bulk of my time alone while my wife attends a conference, I've managed to make a few new friends. Mimiko and I talked about the food on the BA Heathrow route and how global warming is making the transatlantic flight more turbulent.

"I almost flew out of my seat last time over," Mimiko shared, "and I went home during the dry season to nothing but rain."

"It's not good for our commute, but maybe Kenya will become the new Napa Valley. We can go in on some land together and plant Cabernet vines. What do you think?"

She laughed in what sounded like musical spasms and told me she already knew of the perfect site. As we pulled into the Cosmo lobby we agreed to 50/50 terms for ownership. A handshake sealed the deal.

The open container policy in Las Vegas isn't good for containing public drunkenness, but it is handy when you've got a can of beer in your back pocket and a budding thirst under the desert sun. I popped the lid, took a sip, and made my way upstairs to do some shopping. After escaping with two pairs of Iggy fit acid wash and some navy blue shorts, I began my trek back to the North end of the strip. In typical Vegas style, the most convenient (and comfortably shaded) path cuts through some of the most affluent shopping districts: the Forum at Caesar's and Canal Street inside the Venetian. Seeking a break from the overhead heat I decided to seek refuge inside the air-conditioned hallways.

One thing that blows my mind about Vegas is the amount of people out and about, spending freely and extravagantly. We happened to come during an especially crowded time of the year with the Electric Daisy Carnival descending on the city this weekend. The EDC is like a city of its own walled inside the local racecar speedway - 300,000+ people dressed in 1990's rave culture garb, dancing with Molly (the new name for MDMA instead of Ecstasy), and swinging neon-colored glow sticks with flashing lights. However, being that I was out at 10:30 AM, only a few hours after last night's festivities had finally ended, I only had the usual gang of tourists and thrill-seekers to contend with.

I couldn't help but stop at the Chanel store as I walked by, just because someday I would like to have the means to buy my wife a purse there without taking out a mortgage. As I perused the selection, I was secretly eavesdropping on a group of women at the main counter, harping over which two purses they were going to end up with.

"No, no! You need a classic look!" the mother, I'm assuming, said to one of her daughters.

"But you can't see the CC logo!" she whined back.

I sighed and thought to myself how much the wine and spirits world has become like the fashion one. We've gotten farther and farther way from actually enjoying the quality of our wine and clothing, and more concerned with others knowing how much we spent on them. I examined what I thought was the most elegant of the larger handbags and checked the card inside for the price: $3600. That's a lot of money, I thought. However, it's not more than I see bottles of Bordeaux go for daily on our auction site. At least you can wear this for the rest of your life, I reasoned, rather than drink it down during a single meal. There's something about shopping while you're intoxicated that fills you with courage, a bravado that replaces your usually rational common sense. The fact that I was in Vegas only made it more intense. Isn't that what this city is about? Making bold decisions, doing what's normally impossible, and feeling great about it?

In the end, I balked because I knew my wife, while probably sleeping with the bag by her side and marvelling over it like her first born, would never be able to wear a Chanel purse without feeling guilty about what she could've done with that amount of money. Seven years at K&L has also shaped my wine connoisseurship in a similar fashion. I'm more than able to appreciate why first-growth Bordeaux is revered so highly. I'm definitely a sucker for mature, Grand Cru Burgundy. However, I'm not willing to trade cases of great bottles, two months worth of fantastic drinking experiences, for the one lone bottle of Chateau Latour. At least not at this point in my life. I'd never be able to rid that thought from my brain while uncorking two grand's worth of grape juice. There's just no way.

When you're actually considering a purchase of that magnitude, everything else seems like an absolute bargain afterward. What's $300 when you were just about to drop four grand? I was searching for a nice gift for my wife, seeing that we were celebrating later that evening, so I stopped by another high-end store in search of the perfect shoes. I spotted them instantly. They had her size. I threw down the credit card. Deal done, with thousands of dollars saved, instead of hundreds spent. I was giddy and electric the rest of the way back.

When my wife came by later that evening and I surprised her with the gift, she was stunned. She instantly removed her ballet flats and slid into the elegant fit of the new pair."Oh my God," she said, "They're sooooo comfortable! I can't believe how they feel!" I was relieved. Not only were the shoes incredbily beautiful, they were "hand-crafted" (another great booze-related term) with the finest leather inside as well. For the money, I had hoped there would be a big difference in the quality and fit, as well as the exterior, and there definitely was.

Ultimately, that's what we're all shopping for. We want something special. We want something of quality. But we also don't want to feel like we overpaid for something that wasn't worth it. There's plenty of amazing shopping to be done in Las Vegas, the land of fertile valleys and plains. It can be an oasis in the middle of a desert if you know what you're looking for, but endlessly barren and empty if you don't.

-David Driscoll