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Monday
Jan142013

On the Sideways Trail (without Miles)

When my wife and I pulled over to feed some ostriches on the road between Solvang and Buellton, we thought we were doing something rather spontaneous and kooky. However, after we got inside and those huge beaks started nose-diving into my bowl of grub, another couple walked up to join in the fun.

"Yes....this is part of Sideways, too! Yes it is! The part during the montage when the jazz music is playing. Remember?"

You can't escape that film in SoCal wine country these days, but it's not like the locals are complaining. Sideways has brought a huge boost of film tourism to the area, full of young Miles wannabes who go from location to location, hoping to recreate their favorite moments from the movie. It's kind of cool....I guess. I liked that movie when it came out and it did do a great job of making the Santa Ynez Valley seem romantic. However, what's interesting to me is how people tend to view Paul Giamatti's character. He doesn't like Merlot, so the entire U.S. stopped drinking it for almost five years because he must know best. Personally, I think he's an idiot who doesn't know anything about wine, but tries his hardest to act like he does. He's the last guy I'd want to be seated next to at a tasting. He's the kind of person who makes me embarrassed to like wine. But, in all honesty, I didn't feel that way when I first saw the film because I didn't know any better. It's an evolution that has occurred only after a half-decade in the business.

That being said, we couldn't go anywhere without other tourists quoting that movie. We thought about grabbing dinner at the Hitching Post (one of the film's main locations), but we were so over the Sideways experience that we decided to go out of our way to do the complete opposite of whatever Miles would do. There is so much to do along the Central Coast. It is a cornicopia of quaint downtowns, beautiful scenary, and inexpensive, yet delicious booze. There must be a way to have fun and get to know the area without mimicing every step of the world's most anal-retentive, fictional wine snob.

Where to go?

Pea Soup Andersens.

You've seen the billboards. There's a sign about every twenty miles as you go south on 101. The place looks like a gigantic truck stop full of tourist-trap bric-a-brac. And it is! But it's a nostalgic piece of America's road trip past, the kind of place we both remembered stopping at with our families as children (but without the crystal meth). It's so kitschy that it's heartwarming. Miles would never be caught dead here. How unauthentic and touristy! Except that it's not!

We walked in at around quarter to four on a Wednesday; apparently this is when the locals gather at the 1970's style U-shaped counter for coffee and a Danish (we are near Solvang). No tourists in here at this hour, only the funniest eavesdropping one can ask for. We could barely eat our food because we were so engulfed in local topics like farming trends and the grueling semi-truck schedule between Santa Barbara and Salinas. We expected to find traveling folk like ourselves, but apparently the tourists are eating at the Hitching Post. Because of Sideways the locals are gathering at the last place you would expect them! You must make an effort to eat here at 4 PM on a weekday.

Gotta get pea soup if you're going to Pea Soup Andersen's. How about a plate of boiled red cabbage on the side? A cold beer and a glass of white wine for the wife. The great part about the Buellton area is that literally every restaurant has local wine of quality available for a very reasonable price. The wines of the Central Coast tend to be a bit more restrained than the standard Napa fare, which is great for purists like me. You can get great wine at CVS in Buellton, if that helps illustrate its ubiquity. Everyone supports the movement; a show of solidarity that is touching and quite helpful for people like us who like to get drinks all around town. The pea soup and cabbage were delicious by the way. I ended up buying the official Pea Soup Andersen's cookbook before leaving.

The best place along the Central Coast to have some fun is the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obisbo. You need to visit the website and look at the rooms to really understand what I mean, but I'll share a few photos with you. This place has been an eclectic destination for kooks of all kind since the 1950's. It's even bigger and badder in the new millenium as the next generation of Madonnas have expanded the property to include a drive-in movie theater and world-class health spa. This caveman/Mr. Brady urinal stall is equipped with a sensor-driven waterfall, although it's hard to pee with people snapping photos of it every five minutes. If I had to advise someone between seeing Hearst Castle or this bathroom at the Madonna, I would choose the bathroom.

The dining room is from another era entirely. Over-the-top, yet classy as hell – a juxtaposition that isn't easy to pull off anymore. We didn't get a chance to dine, but we heard that this is a destination for every rock star within 300 miles.

There's a fantastic bar around the corner from the dining room and we decided to post up there for lunch and a few cocktails. Our bartender was a guy named Brad who kept the stories coming for nearly an hour. We were on the edge of our seats listening to tales of the L.A. punk scene from the early 80's and Trent Reznor parties in New Orleans in the 90's. You're not going to get this kind of history lesson drinking chardonnay in the Au Bon Climat tasting room.

There are all kinds of old liqueurs gracing the top shelf of the Madonna Inn bar. They're all for sale as well. I can't promise you that they won't have been oxidized, but they won't charge you if they taste like flat cola. I wanted this 1970's bottle of Amer Picon to blow my mind, but it was long past expiration.

When you're all done eating and boozing, you need to head to downtown Solvang and stop at every single bakery you see and stuff your face. Strudel, Danish, Bear Claw? You can have whatever you want! It seems like overkill, but it's amazing how many you can eat when you're determined.

Overall, I would recommend a few days along the Central Coast to anyone like me who hasn't been in almost twenty years. There is an endless amount of fun to be had that doesn't include hiking, cycling, camping or wine-tasting. You don't have to be a nature person. You don't have to be a wine person. There are loads of places to stop for mood, atmosphere, nostalgia, and booze.

And you can find some great Merlot.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Jan132013

New Experiences?

For several years I had been bored. Not a whining, restless child's boredom (although I was not above that) but a dense, blanketing malaise. It seemed to me that there was nothing new to be discovered ever again. Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative (although the word derivative as a criticism is itself derivative). We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can't recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn't immediately reference to a movie or TV show. I've literally seen it all, and the worst thing is, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: the secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can't anymore. I don't know that we are actually human at this point, those of use who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.

- Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl

I've already written four different posts about what this paragraph means to me, but in the end I deleted them all. I about choked up reading this part of Gillian Flynn's outstanding new novel Gone Girl. For me, as a child of the same generation, I couldn't agree more with everything said here. There's a lot of relevance to the booze world in these words as well. However, we've already established on this blog that booze is life, haven't we?

What happens when life becomes complete media mimesis? Do we even know why we like what we like anymore, or are we simply playing a part? A part we've seen numerous times on television or in a movie. What happens when we drink spirits because we want to be like other people who drink them? Will we even recognize quality then? More importantly, where will actual entertainment exist if entertainment is merely mimicing what others are doing or have already done? Will we even know when we're having fun or if we're actually having it?

Do you not drink Merlot because you don't like it, or is it because the guy in Sideways doesn't drink Merlot?

I'm freaking out.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Jan122013

Big Tasting Tomorrow!

I just found out about this now, but it looks like an awesome opportunity for those of you who want to try a TON of hard to find Bourbon and single malt.....AND meet the people behind them. I would totally be going if I had known about this earlier. Maybe some of you can go enjoy yourselves in my place.

My friend Jennifer Seidman is throwing this little shindig at her Acme Bar in Berkeley tomorrow evening.

Come and enjoy some of the most rare, expensive, and exclusive whiskey in existence. Tickets are $150 per person, but look at what you're getting!!

Meet the distillers at a relaxed intimate event. This is a select, casual event where you will be able to talk to the creators and distributors of these amazing products.

All whiskies will be paired with New Belgium's beers including their barrel aged Sour ales, La Folie and Chocolate Stout.

Hors d'oeuvres served.

Tickets available for purchase at Acme Bar or http://meetanddrink.eventbrite.com/#

Acme Bar & Company

2115 San Pablo Ave.

Berkeley, CA 94702

510 644 2226

4pm - 8pm

Distillers attending:

Drew Kulsveen from KBD: KENTUCKY BOUBON DISTILLERY. Drew is the maker of many of the fine whiskies we will be pouring. He will be there to talk to you about the Michter's and Willett whiskies featured.

All of the Willett and Michter's products poured are unavailable and/or out of production. All products retail for $200-$500 or more per bottle.

http://www.kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com/home.php

Marko Karakasevic from CHARBAY WINE & DISTILLERY will be there to discuss his Charbay #2. Only 1500 bottles were released. It is now unavailable and if found retails for up to $500.

http://www.charbay.com/default.aspx

Dave Smith and Andie Ferman from ST. GEORGE DISTILLERY we be there to chat with you about the St. George 30th Anniversary whiskey featured.

St. George 30th Anniversary was released in extremely limited quantites. Nearly impossible to find it retails for over $400 a bottle.

 http://www.stgeorgespirits.com/

Chris Fu from ANCHOR DISTILLING will be there to talk about the newly released line of Japanese whiskies, Nikka. We will also be pouring Anchor Distilling’s Old Potrero Hotalings whiskey which is no longer distributed. If found it retails for up to $300 a bottle.

There are currently only 2 expressions of Nikka whisky available in the US. We will be pouring those, as well as sampling few others that have yet to be released. All bottles retail for $100 or more.

http://www.anchordistilling.com/brands/nikka

http://www.anchordistilling.com/

Steve Kosach from NEW BELGIUM BREWERY will be there to talk about their beers and brewery.

http://www.newbelgium.com/glass-that-gives.aspx

Featured whiskey:

Charbay #2 (Charbay Distillery)

Michter's 20yr Bourbon (KBD)

Michter's 25yr Rye (KBD)

Michter's 10yr Rye (KBD)

Michter's 25yr Bourbon (KBD)

Michter's 10yr Bourbon (KBD)

Willett 19yr Bourbon (KBD)

Willett 20yr Bourbon (KBD)

Willett 21yr Bourbon (KBD)

St. George 30yr Anniversary whiskey (St. George Distillery)

Old Potrero Hotalings (Anchor Distilling Company)

Nikka line of whiskies (Anchor Distilling Company)

A sneak peak at the Ichiro line which is yet to be released in the US; samples of the impossible to find

Ichiro Chichibu will be poured

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jan112013

Three Gifts of the Magi

Not long after Christmas, three wise men rode into the parking lot of the K&L storage warehouse, guided there by a bright light in the sky. They had heard about a shortage of great whiskey on our shelves and had ridden thousands of miles to bring gifts for one retailer; one they had heard would save mankind from its Bourbon drought. There would be no frankincense, gold, or myrrh in these gifts – los regalos de los tres Magos. Instead, three barrels of incredible Bourbon from one of the best distilleries in the world: Four Roses. The gifts of the Magi will not last long. They can only feed so many mouths, unlike the loaves and fish. Sacrilegious, you say? How about sacrelicious!

Four Roses K&L Exclusive OESF Single Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon $59.99 - The first gift from this year's Magi was not gold, but rather a rich, full-bodied, and dark-fruited Bourbon, brooding in its intensity and long on the finish. This marks the first time we've selected the OESF formula from Four Roses, which uses a 75% corn mashbill and a yeast known to create a supple fruit character. Peppery flavors of spice and mint are hidden between layers of wood and vanilla with a powerful accent of heat on the finish. This Bourbon is not playing around and will make any whiskey lover incredibly happy this post-holiday season.

Four Roses K&L Exclusive OBSF Single Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon $59.99 - The second gift from this year's Magi was not frankincense, but rather a refined and sweet-spiced, cask strength Bourbon from Four Roses. This second barrel is completely different from its two bretheren, with a nuanced palate of fresh pencil shavings, soft vanilla and cinnamon. The high proof is completely in balance with the delicate flavors of the whiskey, and the Bourbon drinks beautifully even at cask strength. Formula OBSF uses a 60% corn mashbill with a higher percentage of rye, which adds that bit of peppery herbaceousness on the finish. This is a lovely sipper, but also a cocktail contender. Your sweet vermouths will be lining up, begging to get a piece of this whiskey.

Four Roses K&L Exclusive OBSK Single Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon $59.99 - The third gift from this year's Magi was not myrrh, but rather the most classic and revered of the Four Roses Bourbon recipes: OBSK--the 60% corn mashbill that adds the lovely baking spice character to the standard Small Batch whiskey. Whereas our first cask offers bold richness and our second an heir of grace, the third barrel brings us perhaps the most balance of the three. Those already familiar with the Four Roses recipes will be always be on the lookout for something outside the box, but newcomers may want to start here. This whiskey has everything we love about Four Roses Bourbon: lovely richness, hints of clove and cinnamon, accents of spice, and the perfect amount of vanilla from the charred oak. This is the best Four Roses whiskey I've tasted this year since the 2012 Small Batch, which sold out in less than a day.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jan112013

Letters to the Editor

Wow! I missed some drama while I was gone! David OG just tore Diageo a new A! You can see how difficult it is to be both a whisky fan and a whisky salesman. We're torn between our livelihood and our own personal emotions. Sometimes we just can't take it and we have to blow the whistle. Has Diageo just reached its Netflix moment by almost doubling the price of Talisker 18? The only people who can decide that are the customers buying their products.

In other news, I received this thoughtful email from a man named Weston Renoud who just started reading the blog. He was responding to the post about "haters." I thought this was quite insightful:

...on to your discussion of "haters." I feel you focused a bit too much on perception and presented a veiled argument for persecution. Perceptions often originate from experience, and I think you brushed under the rug the behavior of the wider scotch, wine, and food enthusiast communities. Frankly I think any community that doesn't make a concerted effort to be accessible will involuntarily become exclusionary. I think a better discussion to have than categorizing misconceptions of scotch drinkers (which is preaching to the choir) would be to discuss inclusionary behavior.

Too often I get irritated by fellow scotch drinkers who are drawn to the cachet of scotch but have little appreciation for it. They often have no idea how it's made (which is why they'll buy based on color) but are happy to extol it's qualities. This is not unique to the scotch community, this is the syndrome of the "newly initiated," which lives in the spectrum of the fanboy/fangirl.

I think there are a couple simple steps that could improve the situation of the persecuted scotch drinker.

1) Don't preach to the heathens. If someone isn't interested you can't convince them to get interested. Sit back and enjoy your scotch. This is like the evangelicals putting the bible on their lap to witness. If someone engages you in conversation with a question they'll likely be much more receptive to your story.

2) Demystify. If someone does express interest explain the process of making scotch. It is not that much more complicated than beer (leaving subtleties aside). Empowering someone with knowledge is a quick way to make friends.

3) Use straightforward language. Language can be powerful in more ways than one. Using language or meanings that someone isn't familiar with is a quick way to run them off. My father-inlaw likes scotch but isn't well versed in the language used to describe it. Discussing a heavily peated scotch I said it smelled like a campfire and he was instantly grinning. He felt empowered with language he not only could understand but held strong associations with. From there we started to discuss peat and the malting process.

I just realized this is sounding preachy. Really, I appreciate your blog and your passion. You sound like a great guy to sit down and have a scotch or dinner and some conversation with. I will looking forward to your future posts.

I think what wasn't implied enough in my original post was the idea that whisky connoisseurs can be victims of their own community's exclusionary behavior. I think point 2b covers the issue of the everyday Scotch guy who wants to drink something nice, but is getting lumped in with the pedantic know-it-alls. Believe me, if there is anyone who is more vehemantly against his own community, it's me. I hate all the wine snootiness, the bullshit pairing rules, and the people who use their knowledge as a way to make themselves feel superior. If anyone should be persecuted, it's these people, not the haters who are simply reacting to what they're feeling. However, I think it's important to understand why haters hate if you're going to avoid these confrontations. What I think Weston explains very well is how to appease these haterisms. 

 -David Driscoll