In the Highlands

It's been a wild twenty-four hours, but the short version for now is that I'm here in Jalisco with Charles Phan from the Slanted Door as we're both looking to do a little direct business with Mexico. We've been hanging with Carlos Camarena all day at La Alteña distillery in Arandas and now we're back in Guadalajara getting ready for dinner. Lots to talk about as soon as I get some down time. This is my first visit to the Tapatio/Ocho/El Tesoro facility so it's been eye-opening. 

-David Driscoll


Vengo del Aire

Never in my life have I been on an airplane with smaller seats and less leg room than the one I’m currently riding down to Guadalajara, yet—despite the cramped space and the awkward position I’m sitting in—nothing about my situation is making me anxious or upset. I’m actually enjoying watching my tall and well-built friend DJ try to navigate the various perils of his position, hunched over his laptop with spreadsheets around him while the fuselage continues to close in. It’s all part of the experience and the journey. I know we’ll laugh about this flight a year from now and remember how ridiculous it was, which is why I’m letting the moment soak in. I’m enjoying my role as spectator more and more these days, doing my best to take a step back and let life come to me rather than attempting to manipulate every moment to my making. There’s a bravado in the modern world that encourages us to seize the day and force it into our preferred shape or design, but I’m no longer a fan of that mindset. Instead I seek to remove any sense of entitlement and make the best of every experience—be it first class or meta-economy. 

I wasn’t always this relaxed about life, however. While today I’m much more at peace with reality, there are still memories that haunt my brain as I grow into my evolution as a person; experiences that should bring to mind fondness, but instead flood my body with embarrassment and humiliation. Some people think passivity is a weakness, but today I think it’s a skill and an admirable character trait. Someone asked me the other day what I’m most ashamed of in my life (it was an interesting conversation overall), and I prefaced my answer by asking: “Ashamed of in the moment or in retrospect?” There’s obviously a certain mortification in wetting your pants in public, or passing gas in a crowded room, but that’s an immediate and instantaneous feeling. There is another kind of remorse, however; one that overtakes you much later, only as you being to mature and understand the aftermath of your actions. 

“In retrospect,” the person responded.

I had one such experience that came to mind.

I was roughly twenty-four years old and I was leaning against the stage at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, watching my hero Stephen Malkmus play a solo acoustic set from only a few feet away. This was before the big Pavement reunion, mind you, so at that point in time Stephen was only playing solo material. The other thing you have to understand, if you’re not familiar with Mr. Malkmus, is that he’s sort of a god in the indie rock scene; the musical idol of hipsters around the globe, yet someone who has never embraced or felt entirely comfortable in that role. As a Central Valley kid, I’ve been obsessed with Pavement since I was fifteen and the band is without a doubt my favorite of favorites, as was clearly the case for just about every other person in the room that night. For that reason, when Stephen suddenly started playing Pavement songs, none of us knew what to do other than gasp and freak the fuck out. It started with “We Dance,” but then it continued on into “Starlings of the Slipstream,” and beyond. 

When it became clear Stephen was improvising and going off script, the invisible barrier between the performer and the audience instantly vanished and those who couldn't contain their emotions began catcalling and shouting out requests—myself included. Rather than sit back, shut up, and let this rare and incredible moment unfold before us, we felt the need to exploit it into our ultimate fantasy. We, the Pavement superfans, felt entitled to those songs, as if our adoration and knowledge somehow justified our demands and made us special or different than the casual observer in the crowd. Stephen, with incredible restraint, took the cacophonous feedback with grace and impressive self-discipline. He never gave in, responding only with prudence.

“No, I can’t play that; sorry.”

“No, not that one, guys.”

But even as he continued into “Range Life” and the entire room turned into a kumbaya style sing-a-long, we couldn’t help ourselves. The requests continued to fly and no matter what Stephen did he couldn’t escape or overcome the obsessive fandom that stood there before him, breathing down his neck; a room of people too overcome by their own dreams and desires to shut the fuck up and let the artist present his art. I look back on my own behavior in that intimate moment and I’m utterly mortified by my inability to simply be a spectator. It was a moment of pure selfishness, no different than jumping over the barrier at a baseball game and running around on the field, forcing the rest of the spectators to deal with my own solipsistic splendor. Just thinking about it now makes me nauseous. 

There’s something very wrong with hobbyism and the appreciation of the arts when the people paying for the experience begin to think the price of admission includes a spot for their own participation. Nevertheless, it’s a trend that’s getting worse from my vantage point. I’ve heard Hamilton horror stories where groups of teenagers stand up in the crowd and start singing along with the play or shouting out the lines to the chagrin of those around them. Can you imagine paying $400 for a ticket and dealing with that? I’m not sure where that growing entitlement comes from; whether it’s always been a facet of human self-centeredness or if it’s been made worse by the Yelp era of consumer activism. Either way, I’m embarrassed that I was ever a part of it and I’m continually embarrassed when I see it happen in my own industry, both in those who work as a part of it and those who seek to enjoy its many fruits.

There’s nothing weak or impotent about being a simple spectator, or someone who blends in with the crowd. For years I wanted to be a tour guide of sorts, someone who introduced people to interesting and unique experiences. Today, however, I just want to sit back and enjoy the ride, which is exactly what I’m doing on this Volaris flight despite the circumstances. I’m going to Mexico to take care of business, but I’m going to let that business flow naturally and come to me. As the theme song to my favorite Mexican novela goes: Vengo del aire, no me compares. 

-David Driscoll


Follow Your Nose (It Always Knows)

While I know we're living in a single malt, single distillery, single barrel world, the best spirits I've tasted in my lifetime have always been blends of some sort. That goes for both whisky and rum. There are some great single barrel rums out there (and we've got more coming from Golden Devil later this Fall), but when a rum is blended, both from different styles of rum as well as different distilleries, the potential for complexity and pure deliciousness goes off the charts. The perfect example? The new Cadenhead Classic Rum, a "product of the West Indies." Made with heavier rums, the result is something in between Appleton, Mount Gay, and El Dorado with loads of richness and the essence of pot still funk, but with no additional coloring or sugar. At 100 proof it's bold enough to mix, but you're probably going to be sipping this because it's that heady and delicious. I would buy twenty bottles if I had the extra cash sitting around, mainly because of how much I miss the Cadenhead's Green Label edition I dug out of the old Preiss Imports inventory a while back. This new Classic expression is pretty much an updated version.

I don't really follow the UK and European markets these days, but David OG has assured me that the Cadenhead has already sold out in Europe, so it appears I'm not alone in my adoration. Cadenhead, if you didn't know, is Springbank distillery's independent bottling wing and they have quite the reputation for quality both with their ancient stocks of whisky and their prowess for blending. But you'll know you made the right decision just by nosing a glass of this rum. It's spellbinding and it showcases the best parts of the various Caribbean styles in equal portions. We've got plenty in stock for the time being, but I wouldn't take your eye off the ball here:

Cadenhead's Classic 100 Proof Caribbean Rum $49.99 - The splendid Cadenhead's Classic Rum is finally stateside. The 2017 bottling of this famous old label has already sold out in Europe and won't likely be around here for very long either. An essential expression of English style blended Rum is arrives already firmly in the upper echelons of the rum hierarchy. The special William Cadenhead's Co is Scotland's oldest independent bottler and currently owned by J&A Mitchell of Springbank fame. They've got an incredible stock of old Demerara rums and this is a special blend of rums from throughout the Caribbean is easily one of the finest examples of the nearly lost style of heavy blended rum. They've done wonderful work here offering product of great depth and complexity with rums between 5 and 10 years old. There's absolutely no sugar or caramel added. Deep toasty nose of boiling brown sugar, heady exotic spice and dense pot distilled spirit. The palate is rich and mouth filling with tons of sweet and funky rancio flavors and a big bold kick to finish. It wouldn't hurt to add a drop of water if sipping neat and there's no doubt this will shine in a number of classic cocktails.

Get ready for the Royal Standard later next week, a white blend that furthers my opinion about blended rum on all fronts. 

Meanwhile, I'm off to Mexico tomorrow to buy some Tequila so check back for my reports from the road.

-David Driscoll


Kilchoman Tasting Tonight @ Redwood City

The Willis clan will be arriving at 4 PM to set up the Kilchoman party in our Redwood City tasting room and unleash the new cask strength edition of Machir Bay. Stop by anytime between 4 - 6:30 PM for a free sample of the peated malt and a chance to talk shop with the Islay crew.

We'll see you then!

-David Driscoll


Dinner with Don, Wine with Kyle

For all you NorCal drinkers, Hiram Walker's master distiller Don Livermore will be in town next week and since he's an incredible wealth of whiskey information, as well as a real character, I thought it might be nice for about twenty of you to get into a room with him and pick his brain while drinking Lot 40 and perhaps even a rare bottle of the new 12 year old cask strength he might be smuggling in his suitcase. I've set up a nice dinner menu over at Donato in Redwood City and this coming Tuesday night at 7 PM you can dine with Don and drink Canadian rye for a mere $40. The only caveat is that I've already sold six of the seats, so there's really only fourteen spaces available. Book yourself an intimate evening with one of the industry's serious distillation brains! We'll be in the private front room by the main entrance for this one.

A Special Lot 40 Whiskey Dinner with distiller Don Livermore @ Donato, Redwood City, Sept 12th, 7 PM - $40

For all you SoCal drinkers, mark down Friday the 22nd on your calendar as I'm now finalizing the details for a very special evening wine tasting at our Hollywood store with Special Agent Dale Cooper himself: Kyle MacLachlan. We'll be tasting all three of his Pursued by Bear wines for a modest five dollar fee and Kyle will be the guy behind the bar actually pouring them for you. If you want to talk about Washington wine, Twin Peaks, or anything else related to drinking and David Lynch, come by the Hollywood store that night and have a few glasses of wine with us! I'll have the details on the blog shortly, but I'm thinking a 5 PM start time. That will be a walk-in event, so no need to worry about tickets. I'll be down there that evening as well to help out, so come by and say hello!

-David Driscoll