Our Tequila Selection

I wrote yesterday that I was very frustrated in my attempts to find new tequila. What I did not mean to imply is that we didn't already have some fantastic selections. I just haven't been able to add anything to them. We know that some of us enjoy the adventure of continuing the search for something new. When that adventure reaches a limit, it can be quite a disappointment. Here's a rundown of some of the wonderful products we carry in the order I most enjoy them, just in case you've never had them.

Seleccion ArteNOM 1079 - Jesus-Maria, Jalisco (Mountain Agave 6,200 ft. Alt.) $39.99 - Rancho El Olvido (ATP&C) 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.) $44.99 -
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.

Seleccion ArteNOM 1146 - Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco (Mountain Agave 4,620 ft. Alt.) $49.99 - 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!

Gran Dovejo Añejo Tequila $54.99 - This stuff is actually made at Vivancos, just like the ArteNOM Reposado, but they bring in their own distiller. Frank Mendez called me one day and told me he'd like to come present his new family project: Gran Dovejo tequila. While Frank and his cousin don't come from a tequila-making background, they consider themselves afficionados and feel the same exasperation I do toward the current state of things. They said to themselves: if we're going to do this, we're going to do it right - no cutting costs, no hiring a giant factory to mass-produce flavorless swill, no catering to Costco, no parties with celebrities, just good tequila. In order to do so, they tracked down Leopoldo Solis Tinoco (one of the great master distillers in Mexico) to help bring Gran Dovejo to life. Leopoldo was so satisfied with the final result that he offered to put his name on the bottle as a sign of approval. I've never tasted a tequila more suited for bourbon drinkers than the Gran Dovejo añejo. It has all the texture, the new wood, the spice, and the mouthfeel. I love that they didn't let this thing get all supple, soft, and smooth because there's enough of that in the market. Imagine a bourbon, but one where all the spice came from the spirit rather than from the wood! This tequila spent 18 months in a barrel but it tastes like an 8 year old bourbon because the spirit itself is so expressive!

Tequila Ocho Plata Tequila $44.99 - Tequila Ocho's tequilas are made by Felipe Camarena, a third generation Tequilero, and each vintage--yes, these are vintage designated tequilas--comes from a single estate with its own microclimate, making these the most terroir-driven tequilas on the market. The 2011 vintage Plato comes from El Puertecito. The Plata is spicy, clean, vibrant and delicious.

Los Osuna Blanco $39.99 - Why don't you see the word tequila anywhere in the description?  Because Los Osuna is made in Sinaloa, not Jalisco, and therefore cannot legally call itself tequila, even though it is made from 100% blue agave.  The Osuna family has been distilling the agave plant for almost 130 years so, believe us, they know what they're doing.  Anyone who doubts that the best tequilas can be made elsewhere need only to taste the outstanding blanco, the best "tequila" we offer.  It's nose sings of agave spice and citrus, while on the palate it glides over the tongue with a hints of pepper, lime, and flowers.

Los Osuna Reposado $49.99 - Soft cinnamon notes and lovely wooded spice. YUM. A great midway agave spirit that had both the spice and the richness for people who crave them both.

Charbay Blanco Tequila $49.99 - The Charbay is not the watered-down, overly-sweetened designer tequila being sold these days, but traditional, spicy spirit! Charbay distilled this in Mexico and it’s stunning. They were the first American Distillery to personally distill tequila in Mexico, from 100% Blue Agave Tequila, hand-distilled by Miles and Marko, combining traditional Tequila distilling methods with Charbay proprietary techniques of double-distillation. Miles said "Tequila is by far one of the most challenging" of distilled spirits. Personally double-distilled in Arandas, Mexico, by Miles and Marko, in small (90-250 gallon) Copper Alambiques Tequilano Pot Stills, the Blue Agave is hand selected by Jimadoras, baked for four days to transform the fresh Agave into fermented "Mosto," which is then crushed and pressed and ready for fermentation in small wood fermenters. Once the Mosto ferments into a dry Mosto Muerte, it is ready to be distilled.

Tequila Fortaleza Reposado $54.99 - Guillermo Erickson Sauza is a fifth generation tequila maker who hand-crafts beautiful, artisanal tequila at his century-old estate. His tartabuelo (great-great-grandfather) Don Cenobio was the first person to export tequila to the US, way back in the 1860s, starting his own brand in the 1870s. That tequila (Sauza) was passed down the generations before being sold my Guillermo's grandfather in 1976. Tequila Fortaleza is a return to his roots, and to the traditional methods, including the use of a stone mill called a Tahona to crush the agave, a small, copper pot stills to destill the fermented agave mosto. The resposado is aged in barrel for up to nine months and no less than six, and is authentic tequila, the kind that would make Sauza's ancestors proud.

-David Driscoll


Tequila Woes

Can you name a tequila distillery?

I know you can name a single malt distillery. Even my grandmother knows what Glenlivet is. I know you can name an American whiskey distillery. Even my great aunt has had a glass of Jim Beam or Jack Daniels.

Patron has a distillery now. They didn't always, but success has resulted in an expansion. NOM number 1492: Patron Distillery. It was made at Siete Leguas Distillery, NOM number 1120, from 1991 until 2002. They outgrew their need for outsourcing, however. Now it's totally different, made at an entirely different place. Don Julio has their own distillery as well: NOM number 1449. What's a NOM number, you ask? It's the code on the side of every tequila bottle that lets you know where the tequila is made. Mexico has required that each tequila be tracked by a number that pertains to the origin of the product (whisk(e)y fans would kill for this type of requirement!). Fortaleza Tequila, for example, is made at NOM number 1493: Los Abuelos Distillery. "The grandparents." Ocho Tequila is made at NOM number 1474: Tequilera Los Alambiques. The same distillery that makes Charbay's wonderful blanco. They're in Arandas.

Does this mean anything to you, however? Which distillery made the product? Where it was made? Who made it? What town it's located in? Probably not.

I tasted George Clooney's new tequila today. It's made at Producutos Finos de Agave, NOM number 1416 - the home of Clase Azul. Like the porcelain-bottled super seller, Casamigos (the clever name Clooney designed) is full of sugar. It's like cotton candy with butterscotch. It's the Rombauer Chardonnay of tequila. I'll bet you all can't wait to try some!! Nothing like some sugar to mask the flavor of alcohol!

I've been tasting tequila all week, hoping to dig out a new product to tell you all about, but I can't find anything I'm excited about. It's all unbelievably bad. Terribly awful. Ridiculously tragic. I had a friend in the industry come back from Guadalajara this week and he told me something incredible. He said that seven new mezcal bars have opened up in the tequila region where the locals have begun to drink. He said that Mexicans are rejecting their own national product because it's been overrun with international, conglomerate slop. They're moving to mezcal instead because it's still relatively untainted and it still tastes like it once did. Tequila, on the other hand, has been poisoned with all kinds of additives, sweeteners, coloring agents, and extracts to make it palatable for the general market. It's being saturated. It's being suffocated. It's been gentrified.

I've been depressed about this for some time, but I'm no longer going to sit on my ass and do nothing. Tonight I begin my effort to bring tequila back to life. I've made a few phone calls. Had a few long discussions. I'm working out some plans.

I can't do it alone, however. I'll need some help. I'll need your support. I'll make sure you all get some. I'll make sure it's only for K&L customers. More on this later.

-David Driscoll


No Spirits Tasting Tomorrow

Taking this week off. Go spend some time with your loved ones!

-David Driscoll


Adventures on El Camino: El Sinaloense

On El Camino and 17th Ave in San Mateo is a gigantic Safeway with a Starbucks just across the street - two ubiquitous establishments that you'll find on the corner of Anytown, USA. What's behind that Safeway is much more interesting, however. If you turn on to 17th, go past the Safeway, and hang a quick left on Palm Ave, there's a hidden gem lurking behind the supermarket that is completely off the beaten path. El Sinaloense is the Mexican restaurant you've been dreaming of, but never found because you couldn't actually see it behind all that corporate advertising. It's in a completely bizarre part of town that few locals ever frequent - a forgotten pocket off of El Camino that existed in San Mateo's former life.

As you can see from the painting above, Sinaloan cuisine is married to the sea. Located just under the state of Sonora, Sinaloa is a northernly province that lies along the Pacific Ocean with comida that focuses on fresh fish, shrimp, scallops, and oysters. El Sinaloense operates very much in that tradition. You can get a quick burrito, some tacos, or a plate of tomales if you want, but you'd be missing out on what this restaurant does best. Unless, of course, you get the machaca.

Machaca is a finely shredded (and often dried and sold in plastic bags) type of beef that is rehydrated when its cooked with vegetables and oil. It is also known as carne seca and is a specialty of northern Mexico, just like flour tortillas. Because I'm married to a Sonoran, I've learned that flour tortillas, while very popular in American burrito culture, are not the norm in most of Mexico. My father-in-law, who is from Colima, had to emigrate to the U.S. before he ever tasted a tortilla de harina. Only Sonora and Sinaloa use flour, whereas the rest of the south uses corn. Luckily, the guy who makes the flour tortillas at El Sinaloense is actually Sonoran, so you get the real deal when you eat here. The machaca is not nearly as fine as some of the dried specimen I've had in the past (which have been like hair), so don't worry about getting something totally foreign. My wife stuck with the Sinaloan tradition and got the Mazatlan: a giant plate of seafood sauteed with spices that you scoop up with the flour tortillas. Amazing stuff. I could have eaten both plates myself.

There's a decent amount of good tequila at El Sinaloense including Sinaloa's own Los Osuna, which we carry at K&L. There are some great beer cocktails as well like the Cerveza Preparada: beer with shrimp juice on the rocks with lime! You can drink well while you eat, no doubt.

The Michelada is the way to go, however. A bottle of beer (your choice - I did Dos Equis) with tomato juice, spicy seasoning and lime. Deeeeeeeeelicious! 

The salsa and chips at El Sinaloense are super dangerous as well. The roasted flavor of the tomatoes has a very home-made character that makes you feel like you're in someone's living room rather than a restaurant. Overall, this place is one of the best Mexican restaurants I've ever eaten at in the Bay Area. Granted, I've only ever had two dishes from the menu, but I would come back over and over again to eat those two things - and drink five more Micheladas. Most dinner options are in the $15 to $20 range, which means two can eat well for about $50.

More adventure awaits off the El Camino strip! Seek this place out.

-David Driscoll


Business Relations

The snarkiness of the whisk(e)y blogosphere has been on full display over the past week with the irresistible Maker's Mark story. Taking shots at a liquor company has never been easier (or more fun). I couldn't help painting a rather classist reponse last night, but the truth is I've got no problem with a company making more money. If you work hard to succeed, you definitely deserve success and I'm more than happy to add to it. The problem I have with Beam Global is that they're already making a ton of cash off this new whisk(e)y boom. They purchased Laphroaig and Ardmore in 2005, then moved in on Cooley this past year - three very successful distilleries. Diageo is now flirting with a ten billion dollar buy out offer. You've made it Beam Global! Ten billion dollars is likely coming your way. Congratulations.

But let's squeeze out just a bit more, someone thought. 3% more. Let's get 3% more volume per year. If Maker's Mark makes one million cases of booze per year, that's an extra 30,000. That means someone at Beam was willing to jeopardize the equity of their brand, the reputation of their slogan "we don't change," and the flavor profile of an iconic Bourbon for an extra 30,000 cases. Who greenlighted this idea?

I understand that money can be addictive. Believe me, we're in a boom period for booze so it must be tempting. People are hitting the jackpot like you wouldn't believe. Beam Global gave Bethenny Frankel $40 million for her Skinny Girl idea and everyone wants to be the next Pinnacle Vodka ($605 million - from Beam!). But this isn't a classist argument or a reaction against wealth and success. Don't get the wrong idea. I'm all for cashing in on a liquor brand. I wish I could do it! What bothers me is when a company displays a complete lack of respect for its clientele. The spin. The BS. The backtracking. The whole, "you spoke, we listened." It's completely patronizing. A patronizing of patrons, if you will.

That's what bothers me and that's what's bothering others. Don't talk to me like I'm an idiot.

-David Driscoll

UPDATE: Alcohol in one bottle of 'classic' Maker's Mark = 45% of 750 mL = 337.5 mL
Alcohol in one bottle of 'reduced' Maker's Mark = 42% of 750 mL = 315 mL
Number of bottles of 'reduced' Maker's Mark in one bottle of 'classic' Maker's Mark = 337.5 mL / 315 mL = 1.071429

So they actually would have made just over 7% more cases using the same amount of bourbon, or 71,429 in the example of a million cases. Thanks to SJ reader Ned for the math correction!