Tequila From a Distillery

You may remember my article from a few weeks back about our attempt to bring in tequila made by the same people who market it.  Much like we do with our Champagne selection, we have chosen to seek out smaller grower/producers who are interested in tequila and the process of making it, rather than just the money from selling it.  Today, I met with Jacob Lustig who works for Haas Brothers in San Francisco.  He's the guy who brought us Cyrus Noble Bourbon and a few other interesting mezcals.  What I didn't know about Jacob was that his principle position at Southern Wine & Spirits for more than a decade was as manager of the "Latino/Hispanic" products i.e. tequila and mezcal.  Jacob was actually born in San Francisco, but moved back and forth between Oaxaca and the Bay Area beginning as a 6 year old.  He and his mother would plant agave for fun while there and Jacob took a serious interest in the plant.  When he attended UCSC as a college student, he specifically studied the history of the Mexican liquor business.  While working at Southern, Jacob noticed that all of the relationships between U.S. conglomerate companies and Mexican distillers ended with all the boutique producers left in the dust.  Everything was about bulk, rather than quality.  After 11+ years at SWS, Jacob finally decided to use his long-standing relationships and his encyclopedic knowledge to help bring his favorite producers into the country.  He quit his job and started working as an importer. 

With his new Tequila ArteNOM Seleccion line up of artisan spirits, Jacob has created a series of bottles that lets the consumer know exactly where the tequila is from, who distilled it, and where the dstillery is located.  In fact, each tequila is named after the actual NOM of the distillery that produced it (Norma Oficial Mexicana - given to each distillery and printed on every bottle of tequila and mezcal).  This is exactly the kind of transparency I've been begging for!  Consumers (at least our consumers) want to know where there booze is made!  They want to know the differences between the facilities and the type of agave they are using.  Jacob is well aware of this and, more importantly, he is able to articulate them.  I was so blown away with his presentation today that I will once again be resurrecting the K&L Spirits Podcast for a one hour conversation about tequila this evening.  All of the following tequilas were made especially for Jacob and his label.  Here's what we tasted and what will be arriving this week:

Seleccion ArteNOM 1079 - Jesus-Maria, Jalisco (Mountain Agave 6,200 ft. Alt.) $TBA ($40-ish) - Rancho El Olvido is tequila's highest altitude distillery.  The agave grown at this level hits a higher BRIX sugar level owing to a porous soil and a climate that stresses the agave more.  The nose is packed with lime, pepper, and other citrus fruits, but it isn't overly zesty.  It's there, but it's subdued and concentrated.  Amazingly flavorful considering it's so mild!  A delicate dance of black pepper and baking spices.  Part of the elegance is due to the fact that these guys do not add agave nectar to re-ferment the mash (a practice that is currently legal and results in big, smooth, candied tequilas).  Because agave nectar is 100% agave, the bottle can still claim to be 100% agave even though it's the same as chapitalizing a wine.  This tequila offers purity, authenticity, and quality for a very affordable price.  Highly recommended.

Seleccion ArteNOM 1414 - Arandas, Jalisco (Mountain Agave 5,400 ft. Alt.) $TBA ($45-ish) - Destileria El Ranchito has been owned by Feliciano Vivanco since the post-revolutionary period of 1919-1929.  They hold 2,000 acres of estate grown agave and distill everything on traditional pot stills.  Their fermentation process is what makes them very unique - something about the yeast and their climate creates a bready, yeasty, banana nut aroma and flavor.  This is an incredibly understated reposado that absolutely blew me away with its uniqueness and mild-mannered profile.  Nutty, bready, with cinnamon bursts and spicy cloves on the palate.  Very unique and very, very good.

Selecction ArteNOM 1146 - Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco (Mountain Agave 4,620 ft. Alt.) $TBA ($55-ish) - Casa Tequileña is owned and operated by Enrique Fonesca, known as El Arquitecto.  A fifth-generation grower and master distiller who holds one of the largest plots of agave in the industry, this añejo is made to showcase the oak without overshadowing the agave.  The nose is amazing!  Again, subdued and needing to be coaxed, but incredible when it finally arrives.  Nutty aromas with toasted vanilla, but neither rich nor oaky.  Warm baking spices on the palate, which is incredibly lean for an añejo!  Black pepper and fruit on the finish with more roasted nuts.  Divine!

-David Driscoll


Self Conscious & Defensive Drinkers

In life there are certain subjects of knowledge that society seems to value above others.  While we may believe that the study of medicine, the law, or business will ultimately bring us respect, no one wants to talk about those themes while letting loose at a cocktail party (unless everyone in the room happens to be a lawyer or a doctor).  Meanwhile, the people who have not chosen the path of mainstream education, like the guy who dropped out of high school and now plays in a band on the weekends, are the ones holding the attention of your dinner guests.  The uniqueness of personal experience will always trump education in a coolness competition. I know this because I've been on both sides of this divide.  At one point in my life, I was a scholar.  I studied for my masters in German literature and totally thought about the ideas of Kant, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein. I totally thought this was cool and interesting.  I was totally alone in that assumption. 

You would think that terminating my future as a literature professor and beginning a career in a liquor store would make for less interesting conversation or even garner me less respect.  However, when people at a party find out that I know something about booze, it's all we talk about for the rest of the night.  Like I mentioned above, booze is simply one of those subjects that everyone feels they should know something about, but don't.  Maybe they know a little, a tidbit that someone told them once as guidance, but ultimately people seem to be fascinated by other people who understand alcohol.  I get pelted with questions about wine, whisky, and drinking in general once the K&L name gets dropped.  While at times the attention I get can be very flattering, there is a serious downside to this.

If you're reading this blog it probably means that you too know something about alcohol, so you may have found yourself in a similar situation when the conversation turns to booze.  This is usually a guy thing because it has mostly to do with ego, but maybe it happens with women too.  Since booze is one of those things that everyone at dinner or a party enjoys, the knowledge of booze becomes more valuable than say something truly worthwhile, like knowing how to save a life or the education of impoverished children.  When other people drinking realize that you actually know something about what you're all imbibing, they get self-conscious and defensive - instantly.  It's completely insane, but it happens 100% percent of the time, which is why I now try and refrain from talking about wine or spirits at any social gathering where I don't know anyone.  Usually it's very methodical and tends to manifest itself in one of the following examples:

1) "I think it's silly to care so much about something like alcohol."  Well, I'm not the one trying to talk about this!  People are asking me.  You asked me what I did for a living, I told you I worked in a liquor store.  Then everyone started asking me questions and that's it!

2) "I lived in France one time, and we drank wine everyday, and I stayed with the guy who made it, and he worked at a very prestigious winery, Chateau something or other, and HE knew everything about wine, and he told me...."  If you know something about booze, someone at that party definitely knows someone who knows more about booze than you.  You think you're so cool?  Well guess what everyone, you're not.  There's a guy in France and he knows way more than me or any of you about booze!  So suck on that.

3) "Have you ever had Macallan 30 year?  Oh, no?  Well let me tell you - it's the best.  Have you ever had Highland Park 40 year?  Yes?  Oh, that's not that good."  The test.  Someone who also knows a little about booze will definitely test your might by peppering you with questions to see exactly where you're at.  He'll most likely give himself away as someone who knows very little in the process.  However, as soon as he knows something you don't.....that's what you'll be talking about for the rest of the conversation.

Either by discrediting, competing with, or testing one's experience, someone in the room will always attempt to take out their anxiety on anyone who understands alcohol.  It happens at wine tastings, social gatherings, bars, dinner parties, family reunions, you name it.  If people are gathering and drinking, then at some point the subject will come up.  I used to chime in when that happened, but now I know better.  Maybe people like us who drink and understand alcohol are a threat because we enjoy our lives?  Maybe we're all to be snuffed out like members of a Bacchus cult?  Maybe it's that we've spent our free time learning about something that others don't make time for?  I'm not sure.  It's not like someone who understands booze is the most interesting person alive.  Besides, that guy only drinks Dos Equis anyway.

-David Driscoll


Germain Robin's Fluid Dynamics

Man, are these little bottles going to be huge!  Germain Robin has done something very, very smart.  They've crafted four signature cocktails using their brandies and their Low Gap white whiskey, barrel aged some of them, and bottled them in 200ml, ready-to-go, squat bottles.  The labels are fantastic and the booze is even better.  The Brandy Manhattan is made with their Craft Method brandy and Vya sweet vermouth, then barrel aged.  The St. Nick uses the Craft Method with Clear Creek's Cranberry Liqueur!  My personal favorite, the Saratoga, is the Brandy Manhattan recipe, but with Low Gap white whiskey added. Who knew?!  It's splendidly delicious.  They didn't have the 1850 with them which uses Sazerac in the mix, but I'm sure it's tasty as well.  They didn't make too many of these, so I don't expect them to last until the Holidays, but for $19.99 they're going to fly.  People who don't normally even drink booze are going to be curious because of the cute bottle and the idea.  You can get about 2-3 cocktails out of each, so when you figure $10 a drink is the norm at your average bar these days, it's completely within reason.

Also on hand were releases #3 and #4 in their Mezcalero series, which if you didn't know, is the most exciting series in all of booze, in my personal opinion.  I absolutely treasure the #2 release and it looks like I'll be adding these others to my collection as well.  The #3 San Andres Huayapam Agave is smoky, tangy, bursting with citrus, and ultra clean on the finish.  The #4 San Juan del Rio Agave Sierra Negra is a pale gold color (despite no barrel aging) likely due to the concentration of "something," for lack of a better word, in the wild agave it was distilled from.  It is super tangy and far more fruity than the #3, with less tart citrus and more of an earthy character.  Both are amazing and both are distilled from different varieties of agave than the previous releases.  Their goal is to bring something new to the table with every batch and I appreciate that.  Both were distilled by different producers in Oaxaca and then bottled especially for Germain Robin with a retail price of $89.99.

These are not in stock at the moment, but should be in early next week! 

-David Driscoll


A Bruichladdich Visit

The nice part about having WhiskyFest in town is that all the major players fly in for the event and they end up coming by the store.  On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of meeting with Simon from Bruichladdich for some updates on their new whisky agenda.  The exciting part about Bruichladdich's new direction is its precision.  No more crazy, barrel-enhanced one offs.  No more 48 expression collection.  No more peated Bruichladdich, unpeated Bruichladdich.  There's now an all-encompassing idea and they're ready to consolidate.  From now on, no more Rocks, Waves, Peat.  We'll now have the Organic, the Classic, and Port Charlotte without designations or age statements.  The Organic is the everyday version of the vintage organics we've seen for the last year.  It will be a blend of 5, 6, and 7 year old whiskies, all from organic barley.  The Classic Laddie is a blend of 5, 6, 19, and 20 year old whiskies and will be a stable version of the Resurrection Dram.  No more vintages there either.  Also, no more PC7, PC8, PC9!  There's just Port Charlotte now.  The peated dram from Bruichladdich is going to retail for about $60 and is going to be a major competitor for Lagavulin 16 and Ardbeg Uigeadail.  This stuff is incredibly balanced with sweet Bourbon cask vanilla and integrated peat smoke. I was in love instantly.  Exciting!!  More Octomore on the way as well and this new batch is totally mindblowing.  It tastes like a 45% lightly peated malt, but it's actually a 60%, 150+ ppm explosion.  That's due to their amazing stills.

If you ask Simon, or even Jim for that matter, they'll tell you that the stills at Bruichladdich impact the most important element of their whisky's character.  The delicate, elegant nature of their new make comes from the small lyne arm of the Lomand still ("Ugly Betty") that makes sure only the lightest of alcohols make it into the heart cut.  There's no better example of this blithe vibrancy than their new Botanist Gin.  I've been waiting for almost a year to get this in the States and it's finally about to land!

Made with a large selection of Islay herbs and botanicals, the new Botanist Gin should take the American market by storm.  Beautiful concentration of herbal flavor, along with a smooth, supple palate that makes for one of the easiest gin drinks I've ever had.  Simon insists that the Bruichladdich stills have everything to do with this and I know Jim would agree.  The new Bruichladdich products are due to hit in a few weeks along with our exclusive Chenin Blanc cask!  Can't wait for people to try these.  Tasting them makes me realize how much I love this distillery and everything they're about.

-David Driscoll


Chieftain's Tasting! New Arrivals + Food = Fun

Time for another wonderful Chieftain's tasting in Burlingame!  Come and join us at the lovely La Boheme on Tuesday night, October 25th at 7 PM for a walkthrough of Chieftain's newest arrivals.  Caol Ila 14 in a Jamaican Rum cask, Rosebank 20 in sherry cask, plus two of our newest K&L exclusive arrivals - the Bladnoch 18 and the Dailuaine 27!  Other expressions will be poured as well! This will be a monster tasting all for only $25 and that includes food!!

Reservations are available here.  Your name will be added to a guest list, so no need to wait for an actual ticket!  See you there,

-David Driscoll