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Wednesday
Jan302013

LVMH - No Price Increases for 2013

Straight from the horse's mouth: "LVMH is not planning to raise the price on both Ardbeg and Glenmorangie in 2013. We'll revisit the idea next year, but as of now prices will remain the same."

Something to think about. Especially when GlenMo 18 is so delicious and at a great price. How long can they keep it up? Apparently for the entirety of 2013. Perhaps we should show some love for a company dedicated to keeping its whiskies fantastic and affordable. Lambaste the traveling rocket all you want, the kitschy publicity tours, the gimmicks, the price of the Pride, etc. LVMH is still bringing the goods for the money. Personally, I think the rocket is fun. If you're too cool to hang out with the rocket, you and I probably won't enjoy drinking whisky together.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Jan292013

What is the Salon? An Introduction

A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. -Wikipedia

For the past two years, St. George's Dave Smith and I have wanted to put together our own Salon in the Bay Area – an exclusive place where people could meet, talk, have a few quality drinks, and gather in a friendly, festive spirit of celebration. Of course, we could always just meet at a bar, but there's never enough room for everyone and you can't simply invite a hundred people over to your local hangout. We debated doing it at the Alameda distillery for a while, but the legalities were very hazy. We obviously couldn't do it at K&L. Every time we thought we had found a venue we wound up with some sort of roadblock. A bar or restaurant would be our only chance to pull off the Salon, but what kind of bar has that much space? What kind of restaurant would be willing to give us that type of room and offer up their own staff as well?

Enter The Vault 164.

Recently opened in downtown San Mateo, The Vault 164 is in a unique position to be the central headquarters of our Salon shenanigans. First off, it's close to my house. Second of all, they have a private dining room with a fully equiped bar at our disposal. Thirdly, I've been meeting with their private events coordinater and she and I are seeing 100% eye-to-eye: we both want to create fun, creative, unique, and exclusive tasting events unlike anything that anyone else is currently offering.

There will be music, multi-media, high quality booze, and plenty of tasty snacks on hand. There will be a limited number of tickets available. There will be a manifesto as well. The Salon is a place to socialize, not cower in a corner, taking pictures of your whisky glass with your iPhone while jotting down notes. We'll have plenty of time for that at our educational dinner events. The Salon is about bringing the social element back to booze. The Salon will be a party. A room full of people who love alcohol and love to have fun.

The details are simple. You buy a ticket for the Salon, we give you a punch card as you enter. That card is good for a limited number of 1 oz. pours from the buffet of booze that I will command. There will be a common theme and a thread linking each spirit to the next. For those who don't drink whiskey or are manning the wheel for the night, we will be offering a limited number of guest tickets for a much lower price. Guests are free to munch on snacks and receive free non-alcoholic drinks if they are driving. Guests can also order any number of non-whiskey, fully-alcoholic cocktails from the fully-functioning bar if they don't like the brown stuff.

All in all, we're looking at around 100 spots for our first Salon meeting which will take place on Saturday, February 16th at The Vault 164's private dining room on B Street in downtown San Mateo. Tickets are not yet on sale, but the fee will be $40 per person with a limited-number of guest tickets for $10. The entrance fee will cover six 1 oz. pours of six different Bourbons. Snacks and light appetizers will be available all night long. The doors will open at 7 PM and the event will run until roughly 9:30. Guests do not have to arrive right at the start, as pours will be rationed out and reserved in advance.

Sound like fun? Singles, couples, married folk - rejoice! The Salon is in full effect and we're going to make whisky tastings exciting again. Meet your future spouse or bring your current one with you. It is a party after all. Tickets will be on sale shortly, available via the K&L website.

Stay tuned!

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Jan292013

Tequila Tomorrow!

I am planning to do a giant overview of Tequila on the blog in the very near future. To me, no other spirits category is as misunderstood, as under-appreciated, nor as ripe for a serious renaissnace. In order to give you a breakdown, however, I need to do a bit more tasting and research. In the meantime, you should come in and taste two very special tequilas on your own!

Redwood City will be host Deleon Tequila tomorrow evening from 5 PM to 6:30. I refer to Deleon as the "family-owned luxury brand" and I have written briefly about their products in the past. They are all estate (meaning the make tequila from their own home-grown agave) and their quality (as well as their packaging) is fantastic. They are also quite pricey so now would be a good time to check them out if you've ever been curious.

San Francisco will be hosting one of our favorite producers - Tequila Forteleza. Guillermo Sauza, whose family once ran the eponymous Tequila brand, has long since sold off the name of his family fortune, but not the recipe! They're still making all-estate agave spirit in a pure and rustic fashion. Come and taste through all three tomorrow!

Wednesday evening. 5 PM to 6:30 PM. Tequila is both NorCal K&L locations. Free of charge!!

(note: if you're wondering why LA doesn't do tastings, you'll have to take this up with your city government that decided to add a $40,000 city fee onto the normal $200 licensing fee we paid up here).

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Jan292013

Uh Oh - What's Oxidation?

You know how wine people are always swirling their wine, twirling their glass to let in more air, pouring each bottle into a fancy glass decanter with a thin neck and a wide base? They do this because oxygen helps to bring out the flavor in wine. The younger the wine, the more tannic the structure, the more that a bit of air will help bring forward the fruit flavors, while softening the harsher elements. They've even invented fancy machines to help oxidize your wine more quickly by pouring it though a high-tech nozzle. When you shell out for an expensive bottle, you want it to taste right.

While aeration is good for a freshly-opened bottle of wine, too much oxygen is a bad thing. Oxidation is one of the main wine faults that sommeliers will see if you recognize as they pour you that little taste after you order a bottle at a restaurant. Too much air makes white wine taste rather nutty and acidic, while turning red into something bitter and tart. You leave a bottle of open wine out on the counter for too long and it's going to turn. Finding the sweet spot is every wine drinker's goal. However, here's something that most people don't know, even the folks who drink wine every single day: sometimes you don't want to decant your wine. Sometimes an aged bottle of wine is so fragile that aeration will only begin the process of breaking down what little structure is left in the wine. 1968 Montrose? I'm not going to decant that. I'll be praying that I can get a few glasses down before the whole thing turns to shit.

If you want to get scientific about the whole thing, here's a good definition from the Sommelier Journal:

Wine is a complex soup of chemicals, many of which are created by yeasts during the fermentation process. Any mixture of chemical entities will try to rearrange itself into the most favorable energetic state. This is the principle of entropy. In simple terms, it means that the various molecules in wine will swap tiny charged particles called electrons, depending on what is known as the redox state of the wine. In any chemical reaction between two partners, one entity gains electrons (in other words, is reduced), while the other loses them (is oxidized).

So, really, it's an exchange of electrons between your wine and the air. But that isn't really the answer you're looking for, is it?

One of the most common questions I get asked in the store is, "How long can I keep this whisky after I open it?" Like most questions, there is not one black or white answer. In fact, one of my biggest pet peeves as of late consists of people taking extremely complex explanations and simplifying them into simple yes or no, good or bad synopses. In any case, before I get distracted by a different train of thought, there is a very general answer to the "can" in that question, which is basically, "Years and years." You can enjoy an open bottle of whisky for some time with very little noticeable change in flavor. However, spirits do oxidize like wine. They will change on you. The question I would ask you, much like I ask wine drinkers, is: do you want to enjoy your whisky for that long?

Many serious whisky enthusiasts transfer their hooch into smaller containers as they continue to drink from each open bottle. The reason being that as more whisky is taken from each open container, the more that room for air is created, speeding up the oxidation process. Putting booze into 375ml bottles or 200ml minis is a way to slow the reaction. I know people who do this for wine as well. They don't want to drink the entire bottle so they immediately pour half of it into a 375ml bottle and shove the cork back in, leaving no room for air to mingle with the wine.

Now, before you freak out and start siphoning off your entire collection, I do not do this personally. I usually don't notice oxidation all that much, mostly because I don't have many old bottles lingering about. I now tend to drink what I have within a four to five month period. However, there are some bottles that have been sitting on my desk for almost a year, with only about a fifth of the bottle remaining. They definitely do taste flat, or at the very least less impressive than they once did, but they're still perfectly enjoyable. I'm revisiting this phenomenon now because of the flurry of emails I received today regarding yesterday's Four Roses post. What's going on with my bottle? I can tell you why some wines oxidize faster: it's usually because they're older and less stable. I cannot tell you why certain whiskies oxidize faster. It might have something to do with the proof, but I honestly don't know. If anyone does know please send me an email so I can post it here on the blog. What I can tell you is that my bottle of Four Roses 2012 LE Small Batch tastes more astringent than it did when I first opened it almost four months ago. It's still completely fine to drink and I just enjoyed a glass only moments ago. Nevertheless, I don't plan on nursing this one along.

I know some people in the industry who consider eight months to be the average time before oxidation starts to change the flavor of an open whisky bottle. However, I believe (although I'm not scientifically positive) that it does depend on how much empty space exists in the bottle. If the cork is tight and the surface area small, then you should be alright. However, there is no one simple answer. A website called Cellar Tracker, where wine enthusiasts go to read up on other wine drinkers' tasting notes, is a place to find out how a bottle of wine is reacting to its age. A standard review might read:

4/2012 - Opened this evening. Wine showed nicely, soft tannins, but it oxidized quickly. Do not decant.

We wine geeks read these first-hand accounts to help us with our own experiences, helping ensure maximum enjoyment. However, there are no guarantees with alcohol. As much as we try to summarize it, generalize it, simplify it, and categorize it, there are simply too many what-ifs and could-bes to do so. How did you store it? Where did you buy it from? How hot is your house? How cold is your house? It's enough to make your head spin. That's exactly why people try and create general rules of thumb to help alleviate the pressure. Despite what you hear, however, you can't simply tell someone that wine will eventually go bad while the high alcohol content of spirits gives it a permanently stable shelf life. It's not entirely true. It's not completely wrong, but there's just much more to the question.

Very few of our conceptions about booze are entirely true. Be weary of anyone who tells you otherwise.

-David Driscoll

UPDATE: SKU reminded me about his post from last year here - check this out for an actual experiment with analysis.

Monday
Jan282013

Something to Consider

I don't read the whisky blogs as much as I used to, but I make sure to keep up on about five different sites everyday. Two things stood out to me this week that I think people need to remember and consider.

Tim Read, from Scotch and Ice Cream, pointed out that his bottle of Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch (pretty much everyone's unanimous choice for Bourbon of the year) was oxidizing quickly and wasn't as tasty as it once was. He wasn't trying to degrade the whiskey, but merely point out that that anyone who was nursing it slowly over time might want to simply enjoy it at a faster clip.

Over on Sku's Recent Eats Steve asked readers if they had noticed any decline in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. What was interesting to me was one commenter's statement that early reviews for the whiskies had been quite positive, but more recent reviews had been less enthusiastic. Why would that be? A few commenters didn't see any difference and were slightly peeved that Steve would even mention the idea. That makes sense. After being told by internet bloggers that these whiskies were the hottest thing ever, it would be annoying if someone started reporting that they weren't.

Let's look at the first point. Is it possible that the quality of the Four Roses LESB 2012 will change after opening the bottle? Certainly. Oxidation and aeration will affect booze just as it will wine, although not usually as quickly or as dramatically. I find that most reports of oxidation are a bit exaggerated when it comes to liquor, but I did have an open bottle of the Four Roses on hand that I hadn't touched in over a month. I really hoped it still tasted as great as it orgininally did when I poured myself a glass. I truly loved this Bourbon.

First sip: hmmm....I might be under Tim's influence because it does taste more astringent to me with more of the wood tannins dominating the palate. Let's give it a minute.

Second sip: Better, but still there. Something doesn't seem right.

I decided to wait another day. The following evening I did another taste comparison.

First sip: Better, the richness seemed like it was still there, but the original glory wasn't.

Second sip: Tasty. I still really liked the Bourbon, but Tim was right: it had changed.

After reading the conversation on Steve's blog, I went back and tasted the wee baby samples I had of this year's BTAC so that I could participate in the discussion. What stood out to me was the Eagle Rare 17, a whiskey I didn't love so much the first time I tasted it, but at this moment was absolutely delicious. I made sure to note that I thought it was the winner from this year's five releases. Isn't it interesting that my opinion changed about a whiskey after spending more time with it?

What's the point? The point is that tasting a whisky once and giving it a review is a dangerous thing to do. Yet, that's what most reviewers are doing. It's not much different than the competition between news organizations. CNN wants to be the first network with the big story, but sometimes their haste to be first results in the loss of some important details. With blogging being the main source of reviews for whisky drinkers, some are racing to be the first to review new releases. In the case of the Four Roses, a very important detail to shoppers would be the fact that it might not taste as amazing as it first did a few months down the road. Granted, it is not a fact that everyone's bottle will have altered the way that Tim's and mine seem to have. Some people might not notice a difference. This is just our opinion. Opinions in general are not facts. 92 points is not a fact. 9.5 is not a fact. A- is not a fact. Despite their seemingly scientific and mathematic appearances, scores are numbers that people are making up their heads. These are opinions. And most of the time, they're opinions being made by people who take a few sips and jot down a few notes, then move on. I admit that I have to do this myself sometimes. I only write worded reviews for that reason.

In order to get the whole story, however, you have to research. The internet age has completely gutted both our ability to focus and to wait patiently. It's also created a mad scramble for many of these bottles. Quick reviews, big points, big sales, no more whiskey. If you would have waited for a more detailed review, as in how it tasted over the course of a few weeks, you wouldn't have had a chance at the Four Roses anyway. It sold out from K&L in mere hours. And that's not to say that you shouldn't have bought one either. I'm not sorry I paid for one. However, I'm going to finish this bottle within the next month because I want every glass to be at least as good as the last one.

Sometimes you have to watch a movie more than once to get it. Sometimes you go back to one of your favorite music albums from college and it doesn't hold up. Whisk(e)y can change on you and you can change on whisk(e)y. One taste is the same as one listen-through on a new Radiohead release. Did everyone think Kid A was the best thing ever the first time through? I didn't.

Thanks to Tim and SKU for continuing to review whiskies even after they've already been reviewed.

-David Driscoll