10 Most Influential Spirits List

I'm on phone duty at the moment and that is always a good time to browse the internet in between rings.  The New York Times today was talking about the idea of lists and how the blogging atmosphere really enjoys this activity.  One list that I read recently and had fun pondering was the 10 Most Influential Books In Your Life - the words that changed your view of the world.  I like lists like that because you get to debate impact rather than qualit, and importance to the greater picture rather than best and worst.  For instance, I would argue that Boogie Nights is one of the finest films ever made, but it isn't my favorite by any means, whereas Real Genius I could watch everyday while admitting it isn't a great picture.  The writers who did their Top 10 books recommended not dwelling upon the idea, and recommended going from the gut, so that's what I'm going to do.  I have 10 more minutes on phones to write this so here are the ten spirits (not in any order) that changed how I look at distilled liquor.  Feel free to add your own list to the comment option below.

1) Ardbeg Corryvreckan - who knew whiskey could be so lean yet so flavorful?

2) Arette Reposado Tequila - this is when I "got" tequila.

3) Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Bourbon - this is when I understood why bourbon could be expensive.

4) North Shore No. 11 Gin - gin elegance redefined.

5) Bruichladdich 15 Year Sauternes Cask - Susan Purnell let me try this - my first real single malt experience and still one of the best ever.

6) Germain Robin Grappa of Zinfandel - the best grappa I have ever tasted. Distillation excellence

7) Germain Robin XO - Cognac from pinot noir is a beautiful thing

8) Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal - awesome distillation and so pure

9) 2001 Bruichladdich Resurrection - proof that awesome whisky can be very young sometimes

10) Camut 12 Year Calvados - I never knew that barrel and fruit could be so balanced.

-David Driscoll


There Is No Reason For You Not To Be Drinking Mezcal

Seeing that I'm fresh off a weekend in Vegas, and the fact that it's much warmer there than here, it's easy to understand my current drive towards one of the more fun and engaging spirits of the distilled repertoire.  I came home and knew exactly what I wanted to eat and, more importantly, what I wanted to drink with it.  I got off the plane, took a cab home, walked to downtown San Mateo, visited the Bay Area's finest taqueria - Pancho Villa (now that I'm married into a large Mexican family I think I'm more qualified to make such claims) - and purchased a huge vat of carnitas, refritos, and pico de gallo to make some tacos at home.  Remember, I'm all about matching your drink to your food because meals are simply more exciting when all the proper regional and ethnic elements are in play. 

Breaking out a bottle of Del Maguey Chichicapa is a serious matter that should not be taken lightly, hence why I made sure I had the choicest of slow roasted meats and plenty of lime.  The Del Maguey mezcals are in the same category with Bordeaux first growths, Krug champagne, and DRC Burgundies: they are the best of the best and they are priced to match their quality.  At $69.99, the Chichicapa is the most inexpensive of the single village line-up, which displays different styles and flavors of mezcal based on the water, terroir, and maguey (agave) sourced from the individual and extremely remote Oaxacan villages.  I cannot stress enough how pure and clean the quality of these spirits are and when you know a bit more about their production it makes total sense. 

The process is completely hands on as the maguey hearts are roasted over hot stones in an outside pit and then covered with earth to smolder for three to five days.  Unlike virtually every other tequila that uses a giant machine to break down the agave, Del Maguey is made in tiny villages so they have no machinery, only a horse-drawn stone mill to mash up the roasted plant before it is ready for a long, slow fermentation, after which it is distilled twice in clay pots and copper stills. The only ingredients are water and agave - nothing else. 

The smokiness that is retained from the roasting is unique to mezcal and helps to differentiate it from tequila.  The levels range anywhere from Caol Ila to Ardbeg numbers, which is why I'm still baffeled as to why Islay lovers have yet to truly cross over.  There are no worms in the bottles (a sign of ultra-poor quality), no hot alcoholic flavors, and no next-day hangovers with Del Maguey as top chef Anthony Bourdain learned while featuring the mezcal on his Travel Channel show.  The complex flavors of citrus, agave, spice, and smoke make unaged white whiskey seem even more boring than it already is.  Considering how many people eat a burrito five times a week, it doesn't make sense why this specialty of Mexican culture has yet to catch on.  Del Maguey is as good as mezcal gets and there is no reason for you not to be drinking it with me, so find me in the store and let me tell you more about why you're going to love it.

-David Driscoll


Paddy's Whiskey - Back In the U.S. & On Our Shelf As Of NOW!

 I know I'm a day late on this, but as I type this I have an open bottle of delicious Irish whiskey on my desk and I can't wait for all of you to try it.  It is a BARGAIN!  Our beer buyer, an whiskey fan, Bryan Brick went to NYC a week ago and sent me a text telling me to buy all the Paddy's I could find.  I didn't even know what it was, but from what I have learned, it is one of the oldest Irish whiskey brands that has not been available in the U.S. for over 15 years.  It just hit the East Coast recently and we got it in today.  The price is $31.99 for a LITER!  If you no longer take pleasure in simple, light, easy going whiskeys, then this one isn't for you, but if you like everyday drinkers that mix well with ice or soda, this one's for you.  I found it completely charming with notes of grain and malty cereal and a bit of vanilla on the finish.  The sense of quality doesn't really kick in until the end when you think to yourself, "You know, this really is delicious."  The ultimate party bottles or BBQ spring/summer whiskey.

- David Driscoll

Paddy's Irish Whiskey 1L $31.99 - Now available in the U.S. for the first time in over 15 years!!  Paddy Whiskey is distilled three times from the finest quality barley and water. This ensures a whiskey, which is particularly light, well balanced and pure. Its relatively low pot-still content and uniquely high proportion of malt whiskey, ensures Paddy is one of the softest of all Ireland's whiskeys.  Our beer buyer Bryan Brick thinks it's the best deal he's ever seen with Irish whiskey - the quality to price point ratio is unparalleled, he says.  And it comes in a liter bottle!


Gin Night Wrap Up

Last night was a blast at Martin's West, a place where I (and I think everyone who eats there) really feel at home and at ease.  We had a full crowd and the whole back room was reserved for us, plus we had a surprise guest in Davorin Kuchan - local distiller and maker of the soon to be released Blade Gin.  After covering a bit of history and specifics, as well as the different types of gin, we launched into our blind tasting of seven delicious examples.  On the menu for the evening were: Leopold's, North Shore #11, Plymouth, Hayman's Old Tom, Old Potrero Junipero, Old Potrero Genevieve, and the Blade gin making a secret appearance. 

People tasted them without ice, and without knowledge as to which gin they were currently sipping.  The goal was to recognize the style via the flavors of the botanicals involved.  After that I did a brief demo of how to mix and we used the gins to whip some old fashioned cocktails - The Corpse Reviver #2, the Martinez, and the Blue Moon. 

In the end, I had a blast hanging out and drinking with everyone, and I stayed to enjoy a delicious meal of roasted chicken and root vegetable stew.  Martin West has a fantastic staff and the kitchen crew is top notch.  I can't wait to do this again, and I think that for $15, we can all afford to do this somewhat often. 

-David Driscoll


Short Whisky Fiction - Relax And Enjoy Yourself

For the life of him, Douglas Danton could not keep his mind focused on any one thing for more than a handful of minutes.  No matter how determined he was to attend to any one task, his thoughts simply wandered until they had reached their own event horizon – the point where he could no longer look back and remember what the original idea had been.  He sat down on the red leather recliner and put his feet up – a movement intended to tell his mind that this moment was meant for relaxation.  All of the other possible activities that could be undertaken needed to be pushed out of his head.  True, he should probably take advantage of this time to open his workbook and practice some Spanish exercises – something he never seemed to do anymore (which showed when he attempted to speak it).  There was also the unread issue of Der Spiegel that he had bought last week, hoping that the costly price of the imported periodical would motivate him to get his money’s worth.  “Speaking of German,” he thought to himself, “I should be getting that Fassbinder movie in the mail today.  When am I going to sit down and screen it?”  An awkward sense of guilt came over him and he sat motionless for a moment. 

The sound of the weather outside seemed to further reinforce his desire to sit and stare at the wall while letting his mind further race.  The water running through the gutter rattled to create an ambience that perfectly suited the dull grey light coming in through the closed window blinds.  Despite the other reading materials that his repentant brain seemed to think it should have chosen, the item in his hand was a newly-purchased, second-hand edition of the latest Jesús Panchón novel, and Danton had been eagerly looking forward to having some time alone with it.  Now that he actually had it the opportunity didn’t seem as rewarding as it he had imagined it would be. 

Danton scanned the cover of the paperback in front of him then opened to the introductory page in the book.  The picture used to decorate the front, according to the text, was a quite renowned painting from an early 20th century surrealist.  It likely had some clever connection with the complex range of ideas that were, according to many literary experts, wound up inside this one thousand plus paged tome.  He was immediately excited once more about his decision to begin this adventure and flipped to the start of chapter one. 

            Danton took a deep breath, smiled subtly at the happiness this current position brought him, and preceded to read to the bottom of the page where he was suddenly confronted with an adjective unknown to himHating the self-imposed sense of deficiency that he now felt, while simultaneously knowing that he needed to better himself by increasing his vocabulary, he simply could not continue further without knowing the exact definition of the word.  He paused for a minute and thought, “Am I really going to look up every word that I am unsure of?”  Danton knew exactly what this could lead to if he let it get out of hand: a grueling and arduous process of stop-start, stop-start instead of the desired tranquility he longed for.  The ability to finish a book for Danton was completely reliant upon his ability to build momentum.  Once he really got rolling, he could plow through hundreds of pages at a time, but he couldn’t allow himself to be distracted.  Once again he stared at the wall in front of him.  The noise from the cars driving by outside sounded like waves – a sign that the roads were wet with rain and the tires were connecting with slippery pavement.   He suddenly broke from his trance, flopped the book down on the side table, and rose to make his way towards the computer at his desk.  Accessing the online dictionary, he typed in atavistic and scrolled down the newly-loaded page to find the definition.  The second of the three results for atavism seemed to be the most satisfactory - recurrence of or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook, approach, or activity; a throwback, 

A throwback.  Danton pictured an old tavern with low lighting, thick with cigarette smoke.  A man sat at the bar with a timelessly handsome face, charcoal five-o-clock stubble, and an all black suit without a tie.  He sipped a glass of neat whiskey while a woman sitting five stools down sat completely enamored, watching this man who seemed to manifest the charm of an age long gone.  A time when men were men and they took care to dress well and drink hard.  Why this particular image was chosen by Danton he wasn’t sure, but he soon broke free from his idealistic daydream and peered to his left where a bar full of booze seemed to suddenly beckon him.  The dreary color of his living room seemed to further enhance his emotional response to the collection of half-full bottles.  How nice would it be to read a book, sit back, and nurse a glass of Ardbeg?  The smoky brown liquid warming his insides while the cold world outside his window continued to get wetter. 

Danton closed the screen of his laptop and opened the door underneath the bar where the glasses were kept.  He pulled the cork from the Uigeadail and immediately his nose filled with the characteristic peat smoke of Islay malts.  As he poured himself a small sampling, he gazed at the book he had set down next to the recliner.  God knew that if he took more than a few sips of that whisky he would lose all desire to continue reading.  “Think of it as practice,” he told himself.  “If you can’t read and enjoy a few sips of fine liquor then your really can’t moderate much in life, can you?”  He went to the sink in the kitchen, turned the faucet on to a slow trickle and quickly lowered the glass underneath it to catch just few droplets of water, softening up the strong flavor of his drink.  Returning to the recliner, the book back in his hands, Danton exhaled and looked for where he had left off.  This was the type of moment he romanticized constantly while standing behind the register at work.  He was doing exactly what he told himself he longed to do and he wanted to soak it all in, but somehow it still didn’t quite work.  Out of natural instinct he checked his watch – it was a bit past noon. 

“I should go for a run after this,” he posited, but how was that going to work out now that he had begun to drink, he wondered.  The guilt began to build up inside again.  “I shouldn’t be drinking whisky during the middle of the day,” he scolded himself, and he gleamed regretfully in the direction of the receptacle.  He reasoned he could leave it there for later as not to be wasteful.  The refrigerator began to hum from behind the kitchen wall and the shelf hanging on the other side began to rattle from the vibration passing through it.  The noise had a jarring effect and it overpowered the sounds of the storm overhead.  Suddenly the room, which had only moments before represented retreat from the dour day and comfort in a time of rest, seemed to encompass exactly that which Danton had tried so hard to avoid.  There were things to be done in one’s free time that would make the time spent seem that much more rewarding.  Life was about accomplishment and the more that you could complete meant a greater feeling of satisfaction.  You couldn’t get anything done if you simply sat around drinking whisky in the middle of the day.  This dark grey dungeon was just the place where a man could get stuck in a daylong binge session and if he didn’t get up this instant, he would waste the afternoon away in a drunken stupor.

“I should cook something,” he thought as he once again placed the book down on the side table.  He could get an entire week’s worth of lunches out of the way by preparing a large pot of his favorite pesto sauce in advance.   Before he could change his mind, Danton sprung out of his seat and returned to the sink to hydrate his body for exercise.  He would go for a run first, and then come back to the kitchen.  The first morning of his weekend was over and he had yet to find a course he found gratifying.  “What’s the point of having any time to yourself if you don’t actually do anything with it?” he thought.  He might as well be at work. 

-David Driscoll