Fall is in the Air

The late-evening light of Fall is powerfully nostalgic for me. I'm currently at home nursing a glass of rye with a huge ice cube, while I monitor emails and place more orders for the week. I've got both the front and back doors open, so I can hear the breeze gently ringing the wind chimes on my neighbor's porch. There's a slight chill in the air—just a hint of Fall making its way through my apartment.

I love it. I'm ready for Autumn, and—like a New Englander transitions from white khaki to heavy woolI'm ready to transition from white spirits to the heavier browns.

This bottle of Willett is definitely getting me in the mood.

-David Driscoll


Hot Summer Drankin'

It's been a hot Labor Day Weekend on the Peninsula and there's no A/C in my old school townhouse apartment. The only way to cool myself down last night was to dump glasses of Roca Patron over ice and drink them down until I no longer knew how hot it actually was.

It's been lazy around here. My wife hurt her knee last week, so she can't walk; meaning we've been home-bodies in our stuffy living room, sinking into the couch as the hours continue to tick by. Yesterday evening we watched seven straight episodes of The Twilight Zone on Amazon Prime streaming while the stifling heat slowly turned the fresh berries from the farmer's market into a pool of mushy goo. There's an episode in season three with Charles Bronson and a pre-Bewitched Elizabeth Montgomery as the last two people on a post-Apocalyptic planet. Amazing!

But what to do with all this melted fruit today? Easy! It's time to drink it all up!

If you've got a well-stocked bar you'll never find yourself without an easy solution for dealing with leftovers. I broke out the bottles of rum and mezcal and started whipping up some Labor Day morning cocktails.

First I took all those mushy strawberries off the plate, threw them into the stainless steel mixer with some gum syrup and fresh-squeezed lime juice, and muddled them down into a thick liquid. Two ounces of rum, some ice, and a few shakes: BOOM! A finely-strained strawberry Daiquiri for the Mrs! 

And for me? I took some of those spicy peppers, muddled them into a glass of V8 juice, added some black pepper and Mexican Tajin spice (the secret for this recipe), the leftover lime from my wife's Daiquiri, and two ounces of mezcal from my buddy Jake's Don Amado expression. Voila! A Bloody Maria to start the day with my cold pizza still sitting on the coffee table.

Yes, folks: we really live this way each day. We don't just work at a liquor store; we live the liquor store lifestyle.

-David Driscoll


Taking the Proper Time

I'm a fast-operating person by nature. One might even call me impulsive or impatient. Yet, while all of my natural tendencies towards quick decision-making and even quicker conclusions do give me an advantage in the rapid-fire world of sales and marketing, they work against me in the ultimate evalution of the spirits I am ultimately selling.

Why? Because you cannot properly evaluate a spirit in a few minutes. Hell, I'd even wager to say you can't properly evaluate a spirit in a few days. A few ounces gives you a taste, but not an experience. A taste gives you the chance to write a few tasting notes, but who gives a shit about tasting notes if they're being written by a person taking three minutes to evaluate quality while moving through a long queue of twenty samples? The essence of a whisky can't properly be captured in this way.

Nevertheless, this is how most evaluation is done (as far as I know). The reps come into the bar, they pour us a glass, we do our thing, and then we write our notes. But it's not just us retailers, as few people I know in the industry have the time or the ability to spend a week thinking about one particular whisky before writing their review. Many other people writing online are often basing their notes and reviews on a teeny-tiny bottle they got in the mail that allowed for one small glass of enjoyment. It's enough to get the gist, but maybe not the entire picture. The same thing happens in the wine world as well. Rarely are these 90 point bottles sampled in the same atmosphere in which they will ultimately be consumed (do you think Robert Parker sits down to a steak dinner each time he reviews a new Cabernet?).

We live in an age where people want to be the first to market (or in this case the first to review what's new to market), so we quickly formulate an opinion to capitalize on the wealth of current interest. Speed is an asset when it comes to writing a blog, but not when it comes to understanding alcohol. How important is it, however, to grasp a bottle of alcohol on the most intimate level possible? Maybe it really isn't important at all.

But, nevertheless, let's look at these analogies:

- I didn't realize how amazing a movie Boogie Nights was until my fourth or fifth time through. I went from thinking the film was long and somewhat interesting, to heralding it as one of the top movies ever made in the history of cinema. One viewing simply doesn't allow the viewer ample time to catch all the nuance, or the incredibly-intricate acting on display from Don Cheadle and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

- My wife bought a pair of shoes a while back that she loved. She tried them on at the store and everything was perfect. Three days later she realized the material was a bit shoddy and was starting to rub her foot the wrong way. After a few days to properly evaluate her purchase she realized she didn't like the shoes.

- Most of the reviews I've read concerning David Bowie's work from the late-90s up to his most recent release The Next Day are unable to appreciate the music outside the context of Bowie's earlier work. After years and years of listening to Earthling, Heathen, Hours, and Reality that I've come to the conclusion that I appreciate them just as much, if not more so, than Diamond Dogs or Ziggy Stardust. There's such a beautiful atmosphere being created on in songs like "I Would Be Your Slave" and the musicianship of all performers is in such incredible sync. Plus, his modern covers of new classics like "Cactus" by the Pixies, or "Pablo Picasso" by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, are comparable in quality and originality to Johnnie Cash's late work with Rick Rubin. But, of course, I didn't come to that conclusion in a few minutes, or even a few days.

I could go on and on with examples like this, but you already know what I'm trying to say. Many of us do our best to write honest reviews that are released in a timely manner and serve as a guide for purchasing consumers, but there are so many variables at work that ultimately skew our ability to do so. Time, however, is the most important of these variables. I've given samples to friends who initially disliked a particular spirit, but days later came around and said the whisky grew on them (over time). I've tasted whiskies on a Tuesday and hated them, only to come back on a Friday to think they were fantastic (I just didn't taste them at the proper time, I guess).

I'm increasingly attempting to taste samples across larger spans of time for this reason. There are plenty of whiskies I've gone on to really enjoy after initially thinking them to be rather subpar (and vice versa).

-David Driscoll


Natural Progression

I've loved baseball my entire life. 

I played baseball as a kid, as a teenager for my high school team, and in college as part of a recreational league. It's always been my favorite sport.

Until now.

I don't know if it's the realization of a long-standing dream (seeing the Giants finally win the World Series, twice), or that the fast pace of my job has weakened my tolerance for the slow speed of the game, but I have a difficult time sitting down to watch baseball these days. Meanwhile, my interest in football and basketball are at all-time highs. In fact, as I sit at my desk typing up this blog post, finishing up my lunch break before heading back down to the sales floor, I've got the Alabama vs. West Virginia game streaming on my laptop. I haven't followed college football since junior high, but lately I've had the itch to watch these undergraduate warriors bang heads. It's a huge change in direction for my longstanding taste in athletics.

But I guess that's life. 

When you find your interest in whiskey petering out, you might simultaneously find the desire to taste more brandy. Or maybe rum. Even tequila! That's the beauty of drinking: you have options. Even if you consider yourself a whisky expert, you might be tired of playing that role, bored of where the industry has ended up. 

If that's the case, don't fight your own natural progression. Go where your heart takes you. Despite the antics of the hot-hitting Buster Posey and our new boy-wonder Joe Panik, I'm still more captivated by this 10-10 stalemate between two schools I don't really care about. I might even feel a bit guilty about this betrayal if I wasn't having so much fun.

You just have to go with the flow.

-David Driscoll


Two Roads to Luxury

Booze is big business. This shouldn't be news to anyone who's gone out to a fancy cocktail bar in the past three years, or those who shop for spirits even slightly outside the everyday norm. With an absolutely gigantic new audience and more eager enthusiasts than ever before searching for the next big thing, new boutique products have been popping up like crazy as investors hope to cash in on the current era's new gold rush. Just about all of you reading this blog already know this.

Many big brands, however, were not ready for this new level of competition and they've had to adjust to the loss of market share. Some producers pushed back by leveraging relationships, while others lowered prices. Some producers created their own "craft" divisions, adding new labels to their portfolios that gave the appearance of smaller operations. There were (and always will be) a few who simply bought their competition out. Two major producers, however, faced an entirely different issue. Patron and Johnnie Walker Blue were for years seen as top-class, boutique products in a sea of more mundane brand options. They were the top shelf brands in bars and retailers around the world for their particular genre; coveted by those who considered themselves serious aficionados of liquor. In 2014, however, that's no longer the case. Patron, the industry's first boutique tequila is now seen (by me at least) as a relegated relic of the 90's, while blended whisky in general has taken a serious backseat to single malt. Both brands have seen their reputations with discerning consumers slide over the last five years as fresher faces have taken over the mantle. The question facing them now is: how should a big company react when their luxury products are no longer seen as luxury?

In the case of Patron, they've reacted as well as any big company I've seen since starting in this industry. They went out and built a better mousetrap, which is not an easy thing for large production distillers to do considering the size and scale of what they're attempting. Nevertheless, Patron just released their answer to boutique tequila in 2014: the Roca Patron series, featuring three distillates made from tajon-crushed agave rather than machine-shredded pulp. As I wrote in my post yesterday, the result is simply stunning. I hate big brand tequila because it tastes thin and utterly soulless, but I simultaneously love it when brands get their shit together and utilize their superior faculties in the name of good booze. Patron knocked it out the park with these Roca expressions. They're better than I want to admit they are, and for those looking for the entire luxury packagequality spirit, easy accessibility, instantaneous appreciation, wide recognition, great looking bottle, and elegant gift box—it simply does not get any better. Casa Dragones and Don Julio 1942 are going to get crushed by Roca Patron because the booze is superior, the packaging more authentic, and the prices significantly less. Let me further say this: I would not only feel comfortable giving my most discerning tequila customers a bottle of Roca Patron, I would be excited to do so. Here are my notes:

Roca Patron Silver Tahona Process Tequila $57.99 - The nose is a beautiful hybrid of white pepper, fruity agave, and just a hint of herbaceousness. The initial sip bursts with sweet agave notes, followed by a tangy and salty flurry of spices. The finish is elegant and clean, but it really depends on each sip. Certain moments seem to come together perfectly, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds, illuminating a perfect harmony of soft fruit, peppery spice, and savory goodness. Other sips are simply plain good, which is to say that no one will find the Roca Patron blanco anything less that tasty. Some, like myself, might be moved further into an excited state of jubilation. I have an affinity for sweet-fruited blancos like the round, and supple tequilas from NOM 1079 Jesus-Maria, and the Roca Patron blanco definitely falls into this camp. Other brands often add glycerol to simulate this texture in their blancos, but the result is usually goofy and ends up muting the aromatics. The Roca blanco is clean as a whistle, however. For a large producer to make something this refined on a larger scale is impressive. It tastes expensive.

Roca Patron Reposado Tahona Process Tequila $64.99 - To me, it's always a good sign when a reposado tequila is a pale straw color. It's an indication that some time was spent maturing in wood, but not enough to overwhelm the inherent spice. The Roca Patron reposado is so delicate and subtle that it's almost unrecognizable as a big brand product. It's not big, bold, sweet, or creamy, so how did this destined-to-be-misunderstood spirit come from Patron? The nose is a soft whisper of black pepper, citrus, and baking spices. The palate gives only the faint impression of wood aging—a kiss of vanilla, maybe—but the rest is a faint rumbling of pepper and spice with an incredibly mellow profile that is quiet enough as to not be heard. This tequila was crafted with a deft hand. Again, this is something we rarely see from big brands.

Roca Patron Anejo Tahona Process Tequila $72.99 - Those craving more wood maturation should look to the Roca Patron anejo, which would be the reposado in any other big brand tequila portfolio. The nose has more vanilla and toasted oak with a lovely hint of butterscotch, but it's still much more mild that something like the Don Julio or El Tesoro anejos. Despite the richness of the bouquet, the palate is deceptively lean. There's a sweetness from the wood, a touch of that sweet honey, but it evaporates quickly into a flutter of warm baking spices, finishing richly, but also cleanly. Herbaceous notes linger long on the palate, leaving me to think this would be great with a cigar (if I smoked cigars). Again, for the price point is lives up to expectations. It's incredibly easy to like, but those who appreciate tequila on a finer level will revel in its depth.

So there you have it. Patron took the path towards making better tequila and they definitely achieved their goal. What about Diageo, though?

I finally got to taste the new Mortlach "Rare Old" Single Malt Whisky this week and I quickly surmised that Diageo had taken an entirely different route than Patron towards luxury in the new market; which is to say they stuck to the same route that got them there in the first place. Mortlach has seen its stock rise dramatically over the last few years thanks to a number of first-fill sherry casks that lit up the independent market (one of them being a Chieftain's cask we picked out for K&L a while back). Mortlach has always been one of the crown jewels in the Diageo portfolio, but it was utilized entirely for Johnnie Walker, rather than as an individual single malt whisky.

With independent bottlers reaping the rewards of the Mortlach name, however, it was finally time for Diageo to bring those profits over to their side of the market. Diageo owns the Mortlach distillery and the Mortlach name, as well as the best, most-mature stocks of Mortlach whisky. Why not simply add a high-end, luxury-driven Mortlach expression to the marketplace and establish the brand as a distillery-direct product for discerning whisky consumers?

The resulting idea was the Mortlach Rare Old, simply the single malt version of Johnnie Walker Blue; it's a delicate, soft, easy-drinking whisky that is smoother than silk. It is not a big, chewy, intense, sherry-laden malt that mimics the profile of some of the more-beloved and revered single casks to hit the market over the last decade. It's simply Diageo's version of Macallan 18; it's their answer to what they think their luxury consumers want.

Mortlach Rare Old Single Malt Whisky 109.99 - If you're looking for smooth, effortless whisky that almost glides across the palate with ease, the the Mortlach Very Rare Whisky is the single malt of your dreams. The palate is incredibly gentle, like velvet almost, as just a hint of the raisiny, sherried flavor permeates the tongue before morphing seamlessly into soft caramel and vanilla. The result is a whisky that should please just about any casual fan of single malt looking to step up their quality into something more elegant.

What the Mortlach doesn't do, however, is make a case to more-modern single malt fans who are looking for something new and intriguing in the Diageo realm (which is a pretty big realm). There's no doubt after your first sip of Mortlach that Diageo is playing the numbers game here, banking on the fact that there are more casual drinkers out there than there are diehards (which is absolutely the case).

And that's the ultimate question if you're a big company deciding on a luxury product: do you cater to the insiders or the outsiders? The numbers game is with the casual drinkers, but the credibility lies with the more devout.

Which road will lead to better sales? We'll have to see which path makes all the difference.

-David Driscoll