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Monday
Oct272014

Fuenteseca Numero Dos

The first things that strike you about the Highlands of Jalisco are the shadows: the way the clouds block out the sun, creating contrast between the plateaus, the scattered brush, and the rising hills. There's an atmosphere in Atotonilco that feels authentic; like you're truly in Mexico and the home of all-things Tequila. The vistas are all picturesque along Route 90 as you drive east of Guadalajara into the mountains. About an hour east of the metropolis, you'll find the town of Atontonilco El Altowhere tequila maker Enrique Fonseca livesand you'll also find one of the largest collections of aging agave spirit anywhere. Despite the fact that his distilleryLa Tequileñais on the other side of Guadalajara, in the Lowlands near the town of Tequila, Enrique chooses to keep his most treasured stocks close to home. This past Spring I got the chance to visit his rustic hacienda with ArteNOM boss Jake Lustig, where we both hoped to pow-wow with Enrique about a second Fuenteseca blend for K&L—a sequel to our initial release that won the hearts and minds of Tequila drinkers everywhere.

When we arrived, Enrique and his staff were preparing an epic meal for us on his incredible veranda. Everything Enrique eats is sourced from the farm next to his property. We were going to be feasting on hand-stuffed chorizo and carne asada, but first we opened a few inital beers and took a tour of the site. I had no idea how much Tequila was actually aging at Enrique's gigantic estate.

And then I entered warehouse number one. My goodness. The incredible sight of Bourbon barrels stacked as high as the eye could see was jaw-dropping. Yet, it was only one of many such facilities on sight. Not only are Enrique's mature stocks the oldest existing in all of Mexico, they're also one of the largest in volume. Our initial Fuenteseca release utilized Tequilas up to twenty-one years of age—making it the oldest Tequila ever released. While formulating that blend I was only able to work with the samples Enrique had sent to me in the Bay Area. This time, however, on location at Enrique's estate, I would have endless amounts of mature Tequila at my fingertips. It was an overwhelming feeling.

Many have asked me about the extended aging of Enrique's Tequilas; wondering if more than two decades in oak was too much for an agave spirit to manage. Would the oak eventually dominate the Tequila entirely? Possibly, but before that happens Enrique transfers the mature spirit into gigantic wooden vats. The larger vessels allow for extra maturation without the fear of over-oaking the Tequila. This transition is key in shaping the ultimate flavor of Enrique's expressions. None of Enrique's older Tequilas taste overly woody in any way.

So what happened that night? Did we eventually create a sequel to our much-heralded Fuenteseca Extra Añejo? Indeed, we did. We ate, drank, talked, and blended long into the warm Jalisco evening. This time around, however, we wanted to make a more affordable expression; one that wouldn't cost an eye-popping $189.99. By using a ratio of roughly half four year old Tequila, half seven and eight year old Tequilas, we were able to craft something quite delicious. How does it taste? How much will it cost?

I'll let you know tomorrow when it arrives.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Oct252014

I Just Noticed....

As is the norm this time of year, I've been spending my off days revisiting some classic horror films from the 80s (when gore was at its all-time greatest). Encore has the entire Hellraiser series in HD on On Demand right now, so I've been reworking my way through the series. If you're unfamiliar with the Clive Barker cult classic, Hellraiser involves a puzzle box that, when unlocked, can open gateways into hell that are monitored by a group of demons called the cenobites. The box is covered on all sides by a series of golden patterns and indentations that can be teased and manipulated with ones fingers. In the center is a small circle that works as a button.

As I was watching Hellraiser 2: Hellbound last night, nursing my glass of Glenmorangie 10, I glanced at the bottle and noticed something incredibly coincidental.

Was the Glenmorangie label inspired by the Hellraiser puzzle box? If you rub the front label with the tip of your thumb will Pinhead appear in your living room, ready to deliver both pleasure and pain? If anyone's bottle of GlenMo Original ends up opening a gateway to hell, feel free to bring it back. Full refund.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Oct252014

Please Forward This To Everyone 

It is impossible to know if a wine is bad before opening the bottle.

If you remove the foil and there's a bit of mold on the cork, the wine is probably still fine.

If you remove the foil and the cork looks like it's leaked a bit, the wine is probably still fine.

If the cork falls apart as you insert the corkscrew and disintegrates upon removal, the wine is probably still fine (just pour the wine through a sieve to filter out the bits).

If you pull the cork out and the bottom of the cork is covered with red sediment or crystallized particles, the wine is probably still fine.

If the foil itself is soaked from seepage, the wine is probably still fine.

Basically, unless you're trying to decipher the condition of an old bottle of wine (because the cork can help give you an indication of how much oxygen has penetrated the wine), don't worry about the cork. Corks are misleading. Corks lie. Forget the cork. Worry about the wine.

If the wine tastes bad, then put the cork back in and bring it back to where you bought it.

If the cork explodes in your hand, but the wine still tastes delicious, then drink it. You're not going to get sick.

If you bring a "bad" bottle of wine back to the store where you bought it, then the wine needs to have been opened. You can't know if a bottle is "bad" unless you've opened it, smelled it, and/or tasted it.

No one at K&L will ever make fun of you for returning an opened bottle of wine you think is flawed (even if it isn't).

People might snicker at you if you bring back a "bad" bottle of wine that has never been opened.

It is impossible to know if a wine is bad before opening the bottle.

-David Driscoll

Friday
Oct242014

No Room For Originals?

The price of all single malt whisky isn't constantly on the upward trajectory—just the ones you have to have, can't get, and spend your entire life lusting after. Those continue to get pricier by the minute. Basic staples, however, like Glenmorangie 10 continue to get more competitive with their marketing; to the point that I'm starting to get sticker shock from how low some of these prices are getting. Did you know that Glenmorangie 10—The Original—is now only $2 more a bottle than Glenlivet 12? That's fucking crazy! Because we all know that Glenmorangie 10 is at least twice as good as Glenlivet 12 (do we all know that? If not, I'm telling you—it's twice as good). It's not a bargain brand, Safeway-shelf, in-the-well-at-your-local-watering-hole bottle of single malt. It's a legitimate brand, for God's sake! What in the hell is going on?!

When David Blackmore was here for Whisky Week earlier this month, he stopped by the store and retasted us on the entire Glenmorangie portfolio. To his chagrin, I think I walked away most impressed with the 10 year (he wanted me to appreciate how much better the Lasanta had become). How can you not be impressed with a whisky that manages to get better in quality, yet lower in price? We're at $29.99 now (down from $35), which makes The Original a sub-$30 whisky. It now costs the same as a bottle of Eagle Rare 10. Less than a bottle of St. George gin! Less than a bottle of designer vodka!! For 100% malted barley distillate aged ten years in Bourbon barrels, you're paying less than you would for rectified neutral grain spirit diluted with tap water. Something is very wrong with that equation. Single malt whisky is the most expensive beverage by volume that we carry. How can something this good be this affordable, especially given all we've been told about supply shortages, price increases, and disappearing age statements? It doesn't add up.

It's not like Glenmorangie distillery is some giant factory; a giant metal complex pumping out steam you can see from a mile away (that's Glenfiddich). It's a small, quaint, picturesque place. When we visited the site back in 2013 I was quite taken aback by the unassuming scale. It's not like the product is cheaper to make now, or that they've removed the "10" and are now adding younger whiskies. It tastes better than it ever has, to me. I'm sipping the 10 year old right now as I write this, thinking about how the rich vanilla on the finish never thins out, and how the fruitiness of the whisky shines just as brightly as it does in more expensive expressions like Clynelish 14. I can't figure out if Glenmorangie is doing themselves a disservice by offering their whisky at this price; or if they're doing whisky drinkers a favor. In this age of $100 limited edition rarities, where people see a one bottle limit and say, "I'll take one! What is it?" is there any room for a $30 bottle of Glenmorangie? Does anyone still drink $30 single malt, even if it's an outstanding value? Who's drinking for the sake of drinking right now? Anyone? Buehler?

Part of the issue with garnering steam for something basic and to-the-point are the expectations consumers have in today's whisky market. Everything needs to be the best, or the coolest, or hard-to-get, or there needs to be a back story. Make fun of modern marketing if you want, the focus on fairy tales, but they're only reacting to what consumers are buying. We talk about the lack of value, how everything isn't as good as it used to be, but then LVMH throws Glenmorangie 10 out there at $29.99—no BS, just great booze—and whisky drinkers say, "Meh, I've already had that. What I really want is Port Ellen, but I'm not looking to break the bank." Good luck with that. The value is out there if you want it. If you want to drink great whisky for a great price, you can. I've got tons of GlenMo 10 here right now; all you want for a hot price. You can buy my bottle of Pappy 20 for $1000, if you want. I'll buy 33 bottles of Glenmorangie 10 and have a giant party with all my friends.

That's worth the money. That's drinking to drink. That's cool, to me. 

-David Driscoll

Friday
Oct242014

Drinking to Drink - Part VI

I was practically drooling last night after I read this article in the Chron about a group of Bay Area restaurants deciding to include 20% service fees automatically. I could not wait to see that comment field. I could not wait to read the ridiculous, faux outrage from diners about tipping, and how they would never eat at one of the restaurants listed. I quickly scrolled down to the bottom of the page. To my sheer delight, it was everything I hoped it would be.

"Thanks for the list of restaurants not to eat at," one commenter wrote. I read that sentence and then I laughed out loud. I let out a huge, hearty, belly-shaking laugh that emanated from my inner soul. I texted my friend Thad and wrote, "You sir, have fucking balls!" What none of these people realized—too busy scrambling sanctimoniously to make their very important opinions heard—is that these restaurants were rejecting them; not the other way around. Or maybe they unconsciously did realize it and they were reacting to that rejection. What this group of eateries was boldly stating to difficult customers everywhere, behind a cover of economic speak and minimum wage discussions, was simple: WE DON'T NEED YOUR BUSINESS.

The idea of automatically adding 20% gratuity to the bill would instantly weed out all of the people not willing to pay it; first problem solved. Then, of course, it would quickly piss off all the haughty, hard-to-please, super-critical, I-may-or-may-not-tip-you-depending-on-how-I-feel diners who complain about everything and make life difficult.

"Well, I would never eat at a place that charges me a 20% fee just to have a meal," someone complained.

"GOOD!" these restaurants were thinking. "That's exactly the point!" These owners are not interested in these commentors or their business; hence, why they did what they did! These outraged patrons don't want to eat there. These businesses don't want them to eat there. Everyone wins! The fact that these restaurants are outright saying this, however, is really getting under some skin. As an American business you're supposed to bend over backwards for customers. You're expected to listen to all their criticisms, and—most importantly—care about their concerns. To blatantly put your hand out and say: "We have enough loyal customers already who don't mind tipping 20% automatically. We don't need anyone else, thank you," is an affront to cheapskates everywhere. It's a slap in the face to folks who never had any intention of going to your restaurant and tipping you, but now won't ever get the chance.

But there's a message for whisky drinkers buried underneath all of this (actually, a message for consumers of any kind): not every business wants your business, nor do they need it. If a company isn't willing to change, it may be specifically because they don't want you as a customer.

Let me give you a retail example. If a guy came into K&L specifically looking for batch #42 of Aberlour A'Bunadh, didn't see it on the shelf, and asked us to look in the back for that number specifically, I would probably go to the warehouse and have a look. If this situation started happening multiple times a day, however (like it does now on the phones), I would stop doing it. We don't have time to dig through all of our backstock looking for specific batch or cask numbers on labels. Customers are welcome to look through what we have out on display, but I'm not going to call the warehouse, stop one of our operations guys from his important task, and bother him with an endless scavenger hunt. We're too busy for that. It's not to be insensitive, because I understand that people want these specific bottles. It just isn't something that we're interested in spending much time on. If we lose a certain amount of business because of that, then so be it. We're willing to lose that business because, ultimately, the guys looking for specific batch numbers are generally not repeat customers. They're usually guys calling around from store to store, looking for the best deal. It's a stand that we have taken with our customer service department for the purpose of giving better and faster service to the people that are actually shopping with us frequently. By not getting bogged down in boxes, I have more time to spend with customers on the sales floor.

So when I hear whiskey drinkers complain that brands don't listen to them—that whisky companies aren't giving them the information they want—I don't think it's that they're not listening. If anything, they're forced to listen to demands for lower prices, more transparency, and honest labelling all day long from passionate whiskey fans everywhere—via phone calls, emails, and angry blog posts. It's just that many companies don't care about those issues enough to make those particular changes. More importantly, it's not worth them doing what whiskey geeks want them to do in order to capture that particular subset of business. Knowing that many whiskey collectors are not brand loyalists, and maintain a devotion to the cause rather than the company, I don't think many brands want much of that business. Whiskey companies aren't looking for one-and-done shoppers. They're definitely not making whiskey for the purpose of analyzation and contemplation (although they may enjoy it, too). They make whiskey so that you'll drink it, enjoy the way it tastes, and then come back for another. If you're not part of that formula then you don't really have much pull when it comes to demanding better standards. You're already not drinking their whiskey, so what do they care about what you think?

Bar Agricole and Trou Normand are full just about every night. More than enough people are eating, drinking, having a good time, and gladly paying 20% at the end of their experience. Those restaurants are not worried about losing business they don't need anyway. They're focusing on maintaining the standards that have given them the popularity they now possess. By weeding out the customers they don't want, and the burden these people place on their time and energy, they're now giving even better service to their faithful and supportive core of consumers. I think most booze companies are following that same game plan.

-David Driscoll