I purposely cut back on my Saturday night alcohol intake to prepare for what I knew would be an epic Sunday marathon. My wife and I had plans to meet friends in the city for an early brunch, then wander our way around San Francisco, eating and drinking until one of us said "mercy." It had been a while since we had experienced one of the most insane debauchery sessions in recent memory – a day that we had thought was winding down, only to kick back up into a hazy memory of speed cocktailing and late-night Tacolicious. This time I had vowed to maintain more control throughout the day and end the evening in a more subdued frame of mind. Would I be able to follow through on my campaign promise? I needed to be steadfast.
We began in the Tenderloin with brunch at Brenda's – another in a long line of trendy breakfast locales with a line out the door and at least an hour's wait for a table. I had gone through this debacle a few weekends back and had left many city hot spots both haughty and hungry when I decided I was too cool to wait that long for food. This time, however, armed with coffee-to-go and a banana I was ready to exercise my legs and my patience. Let me tell you that of all the brunch places I've so far dined at in the Bay Area, Brenda's by far takes the cake. Waiting an hour for eggs and mimosas is pointless. You can get eggs and a mimosa at dozens of other places in San Francisco. However, waiting an hour for fried oyster omelets, chedder cheese grits, fried hash, fluffy cream biscuits and decadent beignets (New Orleans-style doughnuts stuffed with chocolate, apples, crawfish, or just pastry) is an entirely different story. Washing all that down with a Cajun Bloody Mary doesn't hurt either. It was incredible. Unique, down-home, and a refreshing change of pace from our usual breakfast routine. Best of all, my stomach was properly fortified against the onslaught that awaited it. As Charles Bukowski would've said, "I've got fuel."
While we had planned on Brenda's far in advance, we had no idea that Sunday was also the date of the Tenderloin Street Fair – a fortuitous event that allowed us to walk freely through the colorful neighborhood without any traffic. We didn't need to wander far, however, because next on the list was a new bar called Emperor Norton's Boozeland, a new pub on Larkin between Eddy and Turk that features a remodled backroom with shuffleboard and pool tables, along with a bitchin' outdoor patio where you might stumble upon Thor – the absolutely gigantic pitbull who hangs out there with his local owner. I had a Chartreuse and tonic (I know it sounds weird, but try it) followed by a whisky and soda while we chatted, threw a few pucks down the salted table, and watched Thor bite a hole through the bar owner's jeans. It was a love bite, but a love bite from Thor could take your arm off. If you're in the Loin, I'd highly recommend dropping by Boozeland. It's got a relaxed, unpretentious vibe and a fun atmosphere with one of the most eclectic jukebox selections around (lots of Ween).
Three drinks into the day, we decided to mosey towards Union Square and the new Golden Gate Tap Room – a massive spot on Sutter street close to Powell with huge televisions, lots of pool, and even skeeball – Chuck E Cheese style! They've got a good amount of beer on tap and so much space that I can't imagine it ever being full. My wife and I spend a decent amount of time shopping between Powell and Stockton, so it's nice to know there's a fun spot to get a drink and maybe eat a grilled cheese sandwich. I killed two Anchor Steams while my friend and I shared stories about our Hollywood experiences at the Scientology Celebrity Center. Apparently he had also tried to break into the Franklin location while intoxicated. He made it all the way in, however. I was utterly captivated.
Since I had used up my four hours of potential parking on Polk, we had to walk back through the Tenderloin celebration, dancing with all kinds of folk along the way, taking in the numerous live music acts, before piling into my VW and heading south towards Trick Dog – the newest cocktail darling in the Mission District. We posted up along the backwall, received our cocktail menus (with the drink written on EP vinyl where the name of the artist would normally be), and combed through the pages to see what we wanted. To be honest, the whole experience feels a little forced, as if they're so worried about being hipster credible that they just went all the way. If you really want to be hip, why not just tattoo the menu on the inside of the bartender's wrist next to the cross section of a pig and a butcher's knife? Better yet, why not force me to bring my own mini vitrola and listen to the menu audibly? I kid Trick Dog. While I was honestly confused by the menu, the drinks we had were very well done. They were out of a few ingredients so I was forced to switch up my first choice into a Hangar One-based concoction with lime. We were all very impressed, but we couldn't stay for seconds because our stomachs were starting to grumble.
We tried hitting up the nearby Flour & Water but we had just missed the last table at opening, meaning we were looking at an hour or more before getting seated. We decided to wing it and headed west towards Mission St. where our gut told us that such a beautiful evening deserved a rooftop setting with lots of small plate options. We walked up the stairs to Lolinda's outdoor, latin-inspired El Techo patio and found an absolutely packed house. People were talking, drinks were flying, snacks were being nibbled, the sun was going down, and we were pumped. I had never even heard of Lolinda, but apparently I was the only one. The first drink I ordered (pictured above) was the El Presidente – something with white rum, Luxardo, and curacao that went down too easily. My second drink was a cold beer because I knew I could have put down dos Presidentes más even quicker. I was really impressed with Lolinda. The drinks were top notch. The food, even better. We had steak quesadillas with real Oaxacan cheese stretching like gooey mozzarella between a thick, hand-made corn tortilla. We had chorizo sticks, big fat chips with fresh guacamole, beef empanadas with flaky fried crusts, and a gigantic Cuban-style sausage sandwich with picked jalepeños and a fried egg on top. That was all before the monster plate of pork chicharones appeared with more tortillas and tangy salsa. I gorged. I gorged some more. Meanwhile I watched the show unfold before me, both on the patio and on the horizon. You need to go here if you haven't been.
After dinner we headed north to 16th, then back behind Dalva to the Hideout for a nightcap of Amaro di Santa Maria al Monte. It helped digest the mound of food still sitting in my stomach and it was the perfect way to wind down the evening. We walked the long way down Valencia, eventually heading back to our car on 20th near Alabama before calling it a night. The cool air refreshed my body and my head, and by the time I got behind the wheel I was completely fine. I had paced myself successfully and managed to enjoy a long, lasting, extremely delightful day full of food, booze, friends, new experiences and conversation. We even got home in time to watch the new Breaking Bad before hitting the hay.
I treasure days like this. Who wants to come with me next time?
With an ever-expanding database of more than 600,000 people, K&L is really starting to reach a lot of passionate drinkers out there. Most of our customers, however, are here for the wine, but today they're going to get a special treat in their email inbox. Our new K&L Exclusive Spirits Newsletter is going out in just a few minutes to the entire K&L database.
Hopefully there's still some booze left after they're done going through all of our new selections!
David - Why aren't there any older Bourbons available at K&L? What happened to things like Rittenhouse Rye 25, Vintage 17, and Jefferson's 18? How long until we're likely to see these again?
Great question(s). Let me start by saying that most extra-mature Bourbon that you've purchased over the years (let's say anything older than 15 years) wasn't really part of any particular business model or forward-thinking plan on behalf of American whiskey companies. It was simply because they had extra booze, sitting there in their warehouses, getting older because no one was buying it. If you've ever gone to a backroads liquor store and seen bottles on the shelf, covered in dust, that look like they've been sitting there since the 1980s, imagine the same situation for America's whiskey producers. These liquor stores never planned on having those bottles for two decades, they planned on someone purchasing those bottles. In the case of American whiskey distillers, they produced Bourbon and rye anticipating a certain number of sales as well. A good amount of it didn't sell, however. The difference between the liquor in a dusty bottle and the liquor in the barrel, however, is that the latter will continue to age. If you talk to someone from Heaven Hill they'll tell you exactly what they've told me - there were never any plans to make Rittenhouse 25. The only reason they even had 25 year old rye is because they made more than they could sell and it just sat there getting old. (According to Chuck Cowdery, they were storing it for a customer who had bought more than he could sell. When it got to be so old, Heaven Hill informed the customer that it was probably getting too old and offered to buy it back, because they realized there was now a market for it. That was a situation peculiar to the Rittenhouse)
Before this whole whiskey renaissance happened, many producers were happy just to clear this old stock out of their warehouses. That's how David Perkins from High West got his hands on older rye whiskies from LDI. Seagrams had made all that rye for their own Seagrams whiskey label, not for some single barrel cask strength limited expression. That rye only sat there in Indiana, maturing year after year, because Edgar Bronfman Jr. orchestrated one of the worst investment strategies in history, putting Seagrams money into the film industry, before finally losing his family's drink business to Pernod-Ricard in the year 2000. All of the Seagrams assets were sold off (Coca-Cola took the sodas and mixers) and PR planned to shut down LDI as well, until it was sold to CL Financial in 2007 – the exact same year David Perkins founded High West in Utah and began readying his old Seagrams whiskey expressions.
As far as I understand it (and there may be some things here I don't understand as well), any older stocks that Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, and Heaven Hill have on hand are so limited that we're likely to only see a handful of extra-mature Bourbon releases per year, in quantities so limited that getting a bottle of Elijah Craig 20 or Four Roses Limited Edition will be no different from finding a bottle of Van Winkle – at least at K&L (I can't speak for the allocations of other regions or retailers). If they are easier to find, expect a price tag north of $100 as the reason behind it. Heaven Hill plans on releasing an Elijah Craig 21 at around $140 over the next few years, as they continue to slowly leak out what extra-mature whiskey is left. The situation has gone from getting rid of glut-era whiskey, to recouping its full market value. I don't imagine that stocks are going to improve for some time either. If production only started increasing within the last five years that means we're at least a decade away from any healthy supply of 15 year old whiskey. From my conversations with Sazerac, Heaven Hill, and Four Roses this is the situation I've come to understand. I don't know much about Beam's older stocks, nor the situation at Brown-Forman or Wild Turkey, but maybe we'll learn more when we visit later this year.
I got home last night after a long day, put my phone and wallet down, made myself a French 75 cocktail, quickly assembled the IKEA mobile kitchen counter that was waiting on my doorstep, paid the delivery guy for the food that he delivered while I was doing so, then finally sat down to dinner with a bottle of Bordeaux I had been waiting all day to try. I was so excited to relax, watch the next episode of Orange is the New Black on Netflix, and swirl that wine in my glass while nosing the aroma. As I popped the cork, however, I could already smell what was emanating from within the bottle: a big, fat whiff of moldy, musty, wet dog, old closet coming right at my nostrils from the neck of the glass. TCA. Cork taint.
Son of a bitch!
Luckily, I had a second bottle in my bag. That one tasted just fine. I came back in to work today and swapped the old bottle with a new one. That's what you should do, by the way, if you find yourself with a bad bottle of wine. Put the cork back in, take it back to where you got it, and ask for a replacement. Don't ask for a different bottle because then you look like you just didn't like it and want your money back. Get the same bottle and try again. TCA has nothing to do with any one producer, or a set of bad corks. It's totally sporadic and it can happen to the most expensive of bottles.
I still find that TCA or "corked" wine puzzles many shoppers. Some people think they can hold a bottle up to the light and see if there's cork in the bottle, but that's not what "corked" means. Some people mistake the earthy, herbaceous flavor of old wine or a skunky cabernet franc as TCA, but it can sometimes just be the flavor of the wine. Some people dump the wine down the drain and return an empty bottle, but how will we know it's corked if the wine isn't there to analyze? Some people think a crumbly cork means the wine itself is bad, but that doesn't have anything to do with it either. TCA is a compound that comes from contaminated equipment and finds its way into the cork. As a buyer, there's nothing you can do to prevent it and there's nothing you can do once it's happened.
Can you imagine buying a bottle of wine, saving it for ten years, waiting to drink it for that entire decade, only to open it and find that it's corked? That's why people buy wine by the case! Because you need a back up plan. It totally sucks, but that's part of the risk when you buy a bottle of wine (or whisky too, but it's much, much rarer). If you've ever thought about laying down a bottle for an anniversary, birthday, or the future date of your child turning twenty-one, you might want to buy two. Or three. Or six.
TCA happens. Usually when you really don't want it to.