Domo Arigato

All of the unknown wonders of wine that used to enthrall me, the unknown varietals and the history of the regions, are now unfortunately known to me.  It's great to have a wine education but it takes the mystery and excitement out of it.  Whiskey used to have the same effect on me, but now I'm an industry professional and I know a lot about what's going on.  However, I know absolutely nothing about what's going on in Japan because what's going on in Japan is staying in Japan.  We only get three whiskies imported to the U.S. and they're all form Suntory.  However, Neyah White and I hung out this afternoon and he brought me some special treats.  I don't have the time or the memory to fill in the details, but I feel like a second podcast about the other Japanese distilleries will be necessary very soon.  There is so much I want to learn and Neyah is a fantastic educator.  Here are a few more photos of what was consumed. 

When you listen to Neyah talk about these whiskies you can't help but get excited.  Some are using 100% japanese oak!  Crazy expensive and so different - they taste like they have curry!

A legendary blend of whiskies made by father and son.  Amazing.

This one is off the charts.  No plum wine aged malt in this (only in the 12), but the salty finish is mind-blowing.  Neyah said they obsess about the water in Japan and it makes all the difference.  I wish we were that obsessive because if water can make whiskey taste like this, sign me up for the H2O class.  More about these whiskies soon.

-David Driscoll


New Stuff

Finally got to taste the new Bulleit Rye which should be in stock by this Thursday afternoon.  From what I understand it's LDI rye but this is a bit more spicy and sweet than the Redemption or Willett.  This has the cinnamon and baking spices that the others lack.  A very nice, easy going 95% rye that should help ease the burden that Rittenhouse has been carrying.  This will retail for the same price as Bulleit Bourbon - $21.99.  A very good deal for such a tasty whiskey.

I decided to bring in the Nolet Gin, a $49.99 spirit that charms you immediately on the first sip.  Made with peaches and raspberries, as well as juniper, this is a perfumy and exotic gin that grabs the senses with a vice grip before lulling the taste buds into a stupor.  Very good, made by the Ketel One people who know gin far better than they do vodka.  Get this if you really love high-end gin.

I continue to be impressed by Belvedere.  I decided to bring back the vodka as well as the "intense unfiltered" stuff that has a bit more rye flavor.  These vodkas are soft, creamy, and very sippable.  I am intrigued by the idea of bringing vodka back.  I think there is something about vodka people are missing and I think that Belvedere might be the brand to show them the way.  It's as good if not better than every other high end product out there, so why not?  I might as well start somewhere!

-David Driscoll


The Power of Marketing

I don't have the strength or the time to put these ideas into a long, well-written, cleverly-organized article right now, but here are some things about booze that have been on my mind over the last day or two:

- I participated in a blind tequila tasting last week where we rated five premium tequilas and gave our thoughts.  Using the dreadful 100 point system, most of us gave medium to low scores for all of the tequilas involved, but one of the judges gave all 90+ ratings.  Because we knew which tequilas were involved in the competition, her rationale was that these were all ultra-premium tequilas so they should all be in that range.  That blew my mind because the term "ultra-premium" is a self-designated label.  The point was that this minute bit of marketing was enough to influence a professional taster, so it must be influencing millions of other drinkers around the world.

- Yesterday I met with Belvedere Vodka's brand ambassador and we talked about the brand's role in the category.  She mostly talked about how it compared to other premium vodkas and how it was great for bartenders wanting to make great cocktails.  I said that trying to convince SF bartenders to use vodka was a lost cause because it doesn't fit in with what they're doing.  It isn't about snobbery, it's about taste and vodka doesn't add anything to these recipes.  That doesn't mean, however, that vodka doesn't have a place, but no one is marketing it appropriately for people who like craft spirits.  Don't talk about luxury or purity, talk about tradition.  Belvedere vodka should have two marketing teams: one schmoozing it up with Usher and Lil Wayne in the club, and the other preaching the tradition of vodka.  White people like myself love co-opting other people's cultures as our own!  Every hipster in SF is looking for the taco place that doesn't speak English and makes the "real" comida.  Show me a picture of a group of Poles from the 1800s drinking vodka in a warm cabin while eating a potato stew!  Romanticize the tradition of vodka in Eastern Europe!  That's the way to get the other side interested.  Make vodka cool again by showing people a rich heritage! That's free marketing advice vodka companies!  The craft movement has single-handedly made vodka uncool.  No one wants to admit they like it, but this is one way around that.  Make it cool again and everyone will come right back.

More on this subject later.  I've got a million things swimming around in my head right now that I need to consider first.

-David Driscoll


Podcast #9 - High West's David Perkins

Fresh of his recent award of 2010 Pioneer of the Year from the Malt Advocate, David Perkins and I discuss what it means to blend whiskey, the state of the barrel sourcing industry, and the misconceptions surrounding High West as a distillery.  A quick warning, there was some noise in my house and the combination of my loud voice with David's quiet one can make it difficult at times so listen in a quiet space!  I hope it's still audible and enjoyable.

This episode can be downloaded here.  Archived episodes can be found here or on iTunes.  You can also listen via our embedded Flash Player below.


David Perkins - Pioneer?

There's a lot of contraversy on the blogosphere right now concerning the Malt Advocate's awarding 2010 Pioneer of the Year to David Perkins - proprietor of High West.  People are asking the question, how can he be a pioneer if he didn't make the whiskies?  Go to these blogs if you want to read the entire thread of the argument.  I offer this in contemplation and then I'll let David defend himself later on our podcast this week:

Using a different analogy, let's look at the Bay Area's esteemed chef Alice Waters - considered a pioneer in cooking.  What is her claim to fame?  She said that people should use fresh ingredients, grown locally, without pesticides.  Her recipes are basic and simple.  She is worshiped in San Francisco for this.  I personally love her cookbooks and her philosophy.

But is she the first person to ever do this?  Aren't there farmers and people living all over the world who have been doing this for thousands of years?  Heck, my father-in-law grew up in Mexico and was FORCED to grow and cook with his own local "organic" food - it was necessity not a trendy choice.  Yet, people consider Alice Waters a food pioneer for doing exactly that.  Some people like my wife do not.

The U.S. is a different place than the rest of the world.  Traditions of growing local vegetables in the motherland were lost when a new generation discovered TV dinners and fast food.  Agro companies began pumping pesticides into our food to make larger, shinier produce that lost its nutritional value as well as its taste.  Alice Waters simply said, "let's go back to what we originally did" and started a food revolution - if you think that a revolution means doing what millions of other people had been doing their whole lives.

The United States, however, isn't the same as other countries so being a pioneer here can sometimes mean pointing out the obvious and doing something that seems relatively easy.  David Perkins simply said, there's a market for good rye whiskey - "why don't I just buy some rye whiskey, blend it, and sell it?  I'll open my own restaurant, distillery, and whiskey bottling operation."  Sure, the distilleries that made these whiskies could have blended them themselves, but they didn't.  By taking these products and creating the High West whiskies, David merely pointed out to them that they had some fantastic product on their hands, made it into a tasty cuvee, and gave us something delicious.

To me, being a pioneer can mean taking an industry in the proper direction for growth, even if the direction itself is lacking in novelty.  The original pioneers helped lead the U.S. west, although the land was not undiscovered or unused (Native Americans can effectively ask, why are these people called pioneers?)  David Perkins obviously saw that rye was going to be big, took the appropriate actions, and did the job effectively well.  There are plenty of other rye producers that are out of stock right now because they did NOT see this boom coming.

I'm closing up shop right now and I just sent my wife a text telling her I'm not going to go to her Oscar awards party because I'm sick with a cold and I can't get shake it.  My wife sent me a reply saying that I'm still sick because I'm supposed to be lying down in bed and resting instead of working.  She ended the message with, "maybe I should market that idea and be the next Alice Waters."  

Ha ha, but maybe she's onto something.  

-David Driscoll