Sunday
Dec132015

Drink & Watch: Equinox

I've been enjoying the hell out of the new Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead that started a few weeks back. Having grown up on the brilliant Evil Dead 2 by Sam Raimi, watching Bruce Campbell reprise his iconic one-handed role is like the most-perfect nostalgic gift that gets handed to me every Saturday night. I get home from work, order take out, pop a bottle of Champagne, and let the gore fest begin. While talking to an acquaintance recently about my affinity for the show, he mentioned an old film from 1970 called Equinox, claiming Raimi had been seriously influenced by the movie. Apparently much of what happens in the Evil Dead saga was an homage to this early piece of horror camp. Somehow even the tiniest fragment of knowledge concerning Equinox had escaped me my entire horror film-watching career. I had never even seen the title mentioned anywhere, but when I began to do a bit of research I saw that Criterion had released a version of it with added features and an entirely separate disc of extras. I knew what I wanted for my birthday. 

Having spent the first part of December in France, I didn't get a chance to sit down with Equinox until this past weekend. Boy oh boy, was it worth the wait. Let me start off by saying that you absolutely must start drinking about fifteen to twenty minutes before starting the movie. I think only the most dedicated of low budget cinema fans will be able to focus beyond the initial half hour without the joyful glow of intoxication. Get your snacks out and your beverages of choice ready before hand. The plot of Equinox deals with a group of college-aged kids (one who looks about 42) who head out into the mountains to meet a professor at his remote cabin (sounds familiar already, right?). When they get there, however, they find his cabin has been destroyed and no sign of the professor whatsoever. The high jinks and hilarity begin from there. There's a book of ancient devilry that falls into their possession, full of an evil magic that the professor mistakenly has unlocked (pretty much just like the Evil Dead films). You can guess what happens from there on.

Unlike the Evil Dead films, however, there's hardly any blood in Equinox. It's mostly a series of grainy shots with audio overdub that sounds like an early Godzilla flick (a genre that Equinox itself is an homage to). The special effects are quite spectacular though considering the film was made for $6,500. You can credit Dennis Muren for that—the man who went on to later glories with George Lucas and Star Wars, as well as with Steven Spielberg and Indiana Jones. One of the "teenagers" is played by a young Frank Bonner, eight years before he would become famous as Herb on Cincinnati WKRP. As if those career jumpstarts weren't entertaining enough, watch the credits to see who did the assistant camera work: Ed Begley Jr! Don't know who that is? Watch any comedy movie ever and he probably has a cameo, but my personal favorite Begley role is as the Alopecia-stricken real estate rival Stan Sitwell in Arrested Development

As you can clearly see from the movie still I've included above, there's a lot to be excited about in Equinox. Especially if you've been drinking since breakfast.

-David Driscoll

Saturday
Dec122015

The Ease of Effortless

There's a reason the term "effortless" is considered a compliment. When you can make something difficult or complicated look easy it means you not only know what you're doing, it also implies that you have a certain grace or fluidity. Effortless doesn't necessarily mean that an act was done without effort, it just happens to appear that way. Steph Curry, for example, makes shooting long-distance three pointers look effortless. Yet ask anyone who's associated with the Warriors about his work ethic and they'll tell you he puts in his time. The reason people like effortless things is because of how off-putting the opposite phenomenon can be: something that feels manufactured or forced. If Steph Curry was out there shooting threes, but looking frantic, stressed, and systematic, I don't think people would be as enamored with him. It's his calm and easy-going demeanor, his simple form and grace under fire, and the way in which the ball seems to effortlessly fly out of his hands and through the net that excites us.

People who try too hard are often unaware of how they're perceived by others. They're usually too busy focusing on the task at hand, pushing forward towards success, to take a look at how their behavior is affecting those around them. I'll give you a great example. I'll tell you a very, very embarrassing story about myself. Back in high school I really wanted to be student body president because I thought winning the office would affirm my popularity amongst my peers, so I started campaigning early. I found clever ways to get the message out, came up with funny posters that I plastered around the school, and generally used my out-going personality to find opportunities in which I could draw attention to myself. I thought I was a shoe in for the job. When the time came to announce the winner, however, I was not the victor—and I was downright shocked. It turns out that a number of people (even some of my good friends) voted against me because they were sick of how hard I was trying to win. The more effort I put into the contest, the more it ended up turning people off because no one likes it when people try too hard. Despite the clear and decisive lesson that was waiting to be learned that day, it would be another five years or so before I would really understand what had happened. Even now I still meet people older than myself who have yet to make the same realization.

When you look at the whiskey market today—or even the spirits industry in general—it seems full of an energy reminiscent of my high school self. Everyone wants to be traditional, authentic, and down-to-earth (ironically, all attributes that fly in the face of self-promotion), yet the market feels more forced and manufactured than ever—the opposite of what's trying to be conveyed. The reality is that many of the great mature whiskies of the world, the ones that people obsess over and spend their life hunting down, were effortless in the most-literal sense of the word. They literally were made without effort because they sat in a warehouse where no one wanted them—getting older, gaining complexity—because there was no market to purchase them and no plan to market them. Diageo's iconic Port Ellen releases were not part of some elaborate scheme more than three decades ago to lay down whisky in the anticipation of some super malt to be released in the 21st century. None of these eighteen year old-plus American whiskies we long for were ever sketched out as part of a company business arrangement in Kentucky. These were simply whiskies that happened because they happened—because the market for brown booze dried up and the spirits were allowed to sit for extended periods of time, unbothered by the thirsty desires of modern humanity. 

Whisky appreciation can work the same way. The more that someone wants to tell me how much of an expert they are, the more I want to run away and find somewhere safe to hide—free from the perils of manufactured posturing. It's like watching the painful embarrassments of my teenaged self all over again. Why did I want to be student body president in high school? Because I wanted to be involved with planning school functions? No. Because I wanted to work with my peers to enact change around campus? God, no. I just wanted the title and the perceived prestige (of which there was actually none, ironically). I thought I was convincing people I was cool, but no motivation so pre-conceived and forced can EVER, EVER, EVER be cool. Effortless is cool. An elegant ease is cool. Allowing life to happen is cool. Letting yourself be ok with all of that is ultimately what brings people in. 

-David Driscoll

Thursday
Dec102015

Bringing it Back Home

I’ve been traveling for the last ten days with a kid named Oscar Beckmann from Norway—a talented little prodigy of a twenty-five year old who does movie special effects for a living. He told me he had worked on a few films recently called Star Wars and Jurassic World—nothing I had ever heard of, but maybe if he keeps working hard he’ll make it big some day. He and his buddy Michael were filming a potential TV show about drinking in France and had asked Charles and me to be in the pilot. After ten days of non-stop work, we made the long haul back to Paris last night from Gascony—an eight hour drive that leaves plenty of time for small talk. Oscar and I shared the back of the van, so naturally our conversations gravitated between cinema and booze. Oscar would ask me some questions about spirits, then I would ask him questions about movies, and we’d trade off tit-for-tat (there are so many scenes from famous movies that I didn’t know were digitally created!). He had an absolute blast on this trip. He didn’t know hardly anything about spirits when we left, but on the flight back he was ordering Armagnac and Cognac from the flight attendant like a professional. This trip completely changed him. At one point I was typing one of the On the Trail blog posts from the car and he asked me about what I was writing. Looking for the right analogy, I said:

“You’re going to buy some stuff at duty free when we get to the airport tomorrow, right?” 

“Yeah, probably some gifts,” he said.

“OK—so let’s say you were married and you were going to buy your wife a present. Would you buy her Chanel perfume–a world-class and world-famous fragrance available in every department store around the world, including the Charles de Gualle airport? Or would you look for something unique that she could only find in France? Maybe something that she couldn’t find back in the states.”

“Probably the latter,” he answered. “I’d want it to be something cool from our trip maybe.”

“Exactly, so that’s what I consider part of my job to be—to find a whole bunch of booze that our customers back in the States could never buy locally and give them the opportunity to try it.”

“What if my imaginary wife wanted Chanel though?” he asked. 

“Then your job is easy. We’ve got Chanel at my store too, we just call it Dom Perignon. That’s a nice present. But, personally, I like to find cool French food stuff and bring it back as gifts. It makes life a bit more interesting, I think.”

“What are you going to buy at duty free?” Oscar inquired.

“La Maison de Truffe has a stand in the Air France terminal, so I’ll definitely grab a few things there. Truffle products aren’t all that easy to find at home. Ladurée macrons, Angelina hot chocolate, things like that. My wife and family always look forward to unique candies and cookies from abroad. It makes coming home much more fun for me, too.” I answered.

“Can you get Camut Calvados at your store?” he asked.

“Right now you can because Charles just delivered some last week, but only once or twice a year as the bottles are very short in supply these days. It’s pretty special.”

“I think I’ll bring the bottle that Jean-Gabriel gave us back to Norway to drink with my family. We had a great time there, so the memory makes it a little more special,” he added.

“Hanging out with all of these guys, doing what we do, staying up late and opening bottles—that’s what it’s all about,” I told him. “You visit, you eat, you drink, and you bond. You understand each other more, you learn about life in other places, and the booze is like a distilled version of that experience. It’s preserved for you in that bottle. Now you can take it wherever you want and share it with whomever you like,” I said.

“That’s what you’re doing on your blog then. You hope your customers can enjoy the bottles in the same way?” Oscar asked.

“In a way, yes. I know that 90% of the people out there don’t care as much about these people or these places as I do, but at the very least I want them to know that they got something cool, something different that they wouldn’t normally be able to get. And I want them to have the chance to learn more down the line should they ever decide they want to. The blog is my personal way of preserving these experiences.”

-David Driscoll

Monday
Dec072015

Historical Milieu

I had never hung out in a 16th century hunting château once owned by a member of the Bourbon royal family (that would be Henry IV, to be exact), now owned by a member of the prestigious Pichon-Longueville family, and sipped brandy from a snifter on a cold winter's evening until last night.

If you think the environment around doesn't have an impact on your enjoyment of booze, then you're probably one of those people who always drinks at home because it's cheaper. I'm not one of those people, however. I like eating and drinking in my apartment, but I also love to soak in a little atmosphere. Particularly when it looks like this.

It's not always easy to understand what makes a particular wine or spirit special when you're sitting in front of your TV, unwrapping plastic bags full of take-out, and watching a repeat of the Big Bang Theory while you check your phone for recent emails. Sometimes you have to go to the source to comprehend the significance. In the case of Château de Briat, I think that's the case. 

But I know that most of you will never make it to Henry IV's former hunting grounds, so I'm going to do my best to bring it to you with tomorrow's On the Trail blog post. In the meantime, I'll give you one more photo here.

I wasn't sure what I was more in the mood to drink: Pichon-Baron Bordeaux, Château de Briat Armagnac, or a glass of Bourbon in honor of his former majesty's namesake. 

Decisions, decisions.

-David Driscoll

Sunday
Dec062015

Le Grand Cochon de Lait

Have you ever eaten an entire roasted suckling pig before? I hadn't until tonight. We polished this baby off with a few bottles of Burgundy and a bottle of Armagnac. Bernard Daubin, the famed brother-in-law of my friend Charles Neal, is simply the best cook I know. He can work wonders with meats and various recipes containing cured flesh. This was an experience to say the least. It's nights like this that fully justify the hard work we put in at K&L. It's a reminder of why we love what we do.

-David Driscoll