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Monday
May122014

Living

I spent Mother's Day with my wife's family; playing with my young nephews, or at least trying to while they fought off the distraction and delved directly back into their iPad adventures. These days there is little bike-riding in the street or intermingling with the other kids on the block. "Why don't you guys go outside?" I asked them.

"Are you crazy?" my sister-in-law said to me. "They can't go outside by themselves."

Maybe I am crazy. By the time I was in second grade I was riding my bike around Modesto on my own; often making a beeline for my cousin's house about a half-mile away. We would meet up with other kids in the neighborhood and do whatever came to mind; maybe that would involve riding a bit further to the park for a baseball game, or perhaps down to the grocery store to buy candy. There were few rules back then, other than: avoid the busy avenues and be home by sundown. I've read that times are different now, and that the streets are more dangerous for unsupervised children. But I don't know if anything has actually changed, other than our mindset about reality. Today, most activities for kids are insanely mapped out; down to the smallest detail. There's little room for improvisation.

In 2004, after getting bogged down in a post-graduate malaise, I decided to sell my car, most of my worldly possessions, buy a sturdy backpack, and head over to Europe; where I would stay for more than a year. For seven straight years I had gone to college, done what I was supposed to do, entered the job force, followed the rules, and abided by the general guidelines for young twenty-something living. Something was missing, however. I had somehow lost a step or forgotten a part of myself along the way. Now I'm not about to go all Eat, Pray, Love on you here, detailing a melodramatic chronicle about my spiritual discoveries and cultural educations, most of which are nothing new or revolutionary for anyone who grew up outside of American suburbia. What did happen in Eastern Europe that summer, however, was a renaissance of by-the-seat-of-my-pants living. Everyday was up for interpretation, and nothing was scheduled in advance.

Should I stay in Budapest another day, or should I head further east towards Romania? What's that? You're headed back towards Poland? Maybe I'll go with you.

All I had to advise me during that glorious period was an old copy of Let's Go! Eastern Europe and the suggestions of those I met in the various hostels. Decisions were spontaneous, exciting, and unpredictable. One day I was sitting in the breakfast nook of a Czech family residence eating potato dumplings, the next evening I'm in a small home outside of Krakow, drinking Polish beer and watching the local soccer club take on Manchester United in the opening round of the Euro Cup. "Hey, you might want to check out Olomouc," someone might mention, "it's a pretty cool little town with a great guesthouse." Sign me up. I'll buy my ticket at the station tomorrow morning.

Now obviously life can't always be a carefree wanderlust of foundationless living (or can it be?), but there's definitely something to be gained by letting it come to you and learning to love the unknown. I try to remember these experiences when I get overwhelmed by the internet. I watch people obsessively calculate every route on Google Maps, or research every meal on Yelp before committing to a reservation. Yet, the best trips I've ever taken involved getting lost at some point, and the best meals I've ever eaten were the result of little expectation. All of this information is supposed to make life better, but I often find that, for me personally, the more that my life becomes scripted and thought out, the less I enjoy it. The same goes for my drinking.

However, it's possible that my enjoyment of extemporaneous activities stems entirely from my childhood -- a formative era that instilled in me a desire for ad-libbed adventure. It may turn out that this current generation of American kids will enjoy the memories of a safe and insulated upbringing. In the end, most of us are enticed by the memories of childhood and a simpler time, when little responsibility liberated us from the constraints of adulthood. Each era has its own version of what that means.

For me, that means living.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
May112014

Whoa! Really?

Some of you might remember that I used to do a podcast back in the day. It was fun. I would basically just call people up and we'd chat for about an hour. I didn't really know what I was doing, and the audio would get all screwed up sometimes, but I'd upload them anyway just for fun. After not having thought about the podcast for almost a year, I decided to login to the host website and see what the statistics were (after all, we still have to pay a monthly fee to keep the old episodes online).

Holy Christ!

50,000 downloads.

That's a higher quantity of listeners than I ever expected. If I knew that many people were going to listen in I might have tried to raise the quality a little bit (of course, I might have been too intimidated to even try had I known what was going to happen).

So, if it's so popular, why don't I do the podcast anymore? I get that question a lot to this day. There are a number of reasons.

1) I don't know who else to interview. I mean, sure, I could do every master distiller from every distillery, but they'd all just say the same things over and over again.

2) I think you can get a good sense of the spirits world from the episodes that are there already. We've pretty much covered the basics, right?

3) Spirits companies are not going to answer the intimate questions you want answered. You want journalism and hard facts? You're gonna have to wait until Erin Brockovich starts a spirits podcast. Ain't no one tellin' me nothing; especially now that they know we're getting 50,000 downloads.

4) I realized a few years back that most of the people who read our newsletters and blog posts do so at work. They can get away with pulling up a separate window and act like they're reading their email, but they can't get away with putting headphones on. I started transcribing the interviews when I found that out.

So while I'm flattered that so many people have tuned in to the podcast episodes, I don't think it's likely that we'll start them up again any time soon. But you never know. I do get nostalgic quite easily.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
May102014

Shift 4

A friend of mine told me something quite funny the other day when I was telling him about all the emails I usually answer during the week. He said, "You should just start replying with $$$ as your answer. Just hit 'shift 4' and push 'send'." That cracked me up because it's basically true; depending on the way the questioned is phrased, of course.

For example, if someone asked, "Hey David, why did _______ discontinue the _______ label?" I could answer that with "$$$".

If someone said, "David, I'm noticing more young whiskey in the marketplace these days. Why do you think that's happening?"

$$$

"David, I don't think the _______ whiskey is as good as it used to be. Why do you think the quality may have changed?"

$$$

You get the picture.

You'll hear a lot of industry veterans say that the booze business is cyclical. They've seen ups and downs, gluts and shortages, and the same stale trends come back around a generation later. They usually site public interest as the main reason -- drinking is a fad, they say. But it isn't pop culture that's driving these cycles, in my opinion. It's greed.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
May102014

Industry Revival

There are two polarizing ways you can look at the new Sazerac tequilas from Corazon -- as a total marketing gimmick looking to exploit the Van Winkle name for a quick profit, or as a clever way to help cross whiskey drinkers over into the anejo tequila category. The cynic will assume that the tequilas are shit, while the romantic might hope to taste a bit of that wheated Bourbon magic. The reality of the situation is this: no one knows how to market tequila right now. There's not one company doing it right in my opinion. It's either good tequila in a bad bottle, or bad tequila in a good bottle (or sometimes bad tequila in a terrible bottle); ultimately there seems to be a complete lack of understanding of what exactly tequila consumers want. That being the case, it makes total sense that Sazerac would begin to market its tequila the same way it markets its whiskey -- you might as well start with what works. Personally, I think it's a great idea.

What I didn't think was a good idea, however, was the price: $100 a bottle. I tasted these tequilas about five months ago and decided to pass; not because I thought they were gimmicky, but because they were too expensive. In my mind, the Van Winkle, Stagg, and Sazerac rubs were fantastic ways to garner interest for a brand looking to revamp itself. To me, however, these were $60 tequilas -- comparable in quality to the Fortaleza Anejo at $75 and the Ocho Anejo at $52. The marketing wasn't the bad idea, it was expecting consumers to fork over an extra $40 because the bottle said "Van Winkle" -- that was the bad idea. "I'm interested in the tequilas," I told Sazerac at that time, "but not at those prices."

This week, when the subject of revisiting the Sazerac Corazones came up again, I restated my position; but this time I was able to break through with my opinion. I managed to get the pricing down to $69.99 a bottle for each of the expressions -- for two year old tequilas of this quality, this is more than reasonable. I think getting people excited about tequila is always a good idea, but you can't exploit that interest because you'll turn that excitment back off again. The industry needs a shot in the arm, a revival of some sort, but the brands aren't sure if luxury or authenticity is the way to go -- the result is a mess of something in the middle. I applaud Sazerac in their efforts to bring interesting, barrel specific, transparent tequila to the market place -- free of artificial sweeteners or coloring. And now I applaud them for getting them down to the price they should have been originally.

This is an idea I can now get behind:

In 2010, Sazerac -- the company which owns Buffalo Trace distillery, home of many legendary Bourbons -- began a tequila project with distiller Miguel Cedeno Cruz, which would take tequila from Tequila San Matias distillery in Jalisco and age it in whiskey barrels from Sazerac's most famous expressions. They took barrels from their George T. Stagg, Van Winkle, and Sazerac whiskies and used them to mature tequila for anywhere from 22 months to two years, hoping to inflect the flavor from their boldest expressions into the spirit of Mexico. For collectors of rare American whiskey and lovers of fine tequila, this is a dream combination.

Not only are these three Corazon tequilas a fantastic project between great producers on both sides of the border, we’re now able to offer them for the best possible pricing. Whereas other retailers clock in somewhere between $85 and $100 a bottle, we’re excited to be able to offer these tequilas on special order for $69.99 a bottle – while supplies last.

Corazon Van Winkle Aged Anejo Tequila 750ml (Elsewhere $100) ($69.99)

Working with casks from the Van Winkle Bourbons, the most-coveted American whiskey of all time, Cruz aged this anejo expression for 23 months, producing a creamier and more supple expression with hints of toasted almond and vanilla. The finish goes on forever, meandering between spicy ginger and lemon tea. For any lover of both tequila and Bourbon, the new Corazon expressions from Sazerac are where passions for great spirits collide!

Corazon George T. Stagg Aged Anejo Tequila 750ml (Elsewhere $100) ($69.99)

Taking used casks from George T. Stagg, the powerful and over-proofed beast that has Bourbon collectors everywhere in a frenzy, the folks from Corazon aged this anejo expression for 22 months, resulting in a powerful and spicy tequila that starts with pepper and barrel char before settling down into notes of cinnamon and dried herbs. The finish shows hints of cocoa and bold barrel char.

Corazon Sazerac Aged Anejo Tequila 750ml (Elsewhere $100) ($69.99)

Utilizing casks from Sazerac rye, the more herbaceous whiskey that sets the standard for the industry, this anejo expression was aged for two years and shows the most inflection of the three available anejos. The intensity of the rye is instantly apparent in the tequila, with a distinct hint of charred oak and peppery sweetness on the palate. The finish becomes almost fruity, with butterscotch on the backend that softens the flavors and allows them to linger long on the tongue.

-David Driscoll

Friday
May092014

Under the Volcano: Mexico Preview

On Tuesday night I will board the red-eye from SFO to Mexico City where I will attempt to find the famed French legionnaire Nic Palazzi somewhere inside of Benito Juárez aeropuerto. I'm guessing we'll eat something greasy and delicious while we wait for Jake Lustig to finish his meeting and join us for an 11:15 AM flight to Oaxaca. Running on a mere few hours of sleep, I'm assuming the majestic views of the Sierra Juárez will rejuvenate us and give us the energy we need to slug through two solid days of mezcal before we fly back to D.F. and connect with our flight to Guadalajara.

Friday and Saturday will be spent at the famed ArteNOM distilleries: Rancho El Olvido in Jesús-Maria, Feliciano Vivancos in Arandas, and Enrique Fonseca's Tequileña in the town of Tequila. I'll be live blogging, of course, whenever possible and snapping photos the entire time. Look for a colorful assault on your senses next week. I'm hoping to capture the romanticism from some of the most honest and traditional distillers left on this planet.

-David Driscoll