Three Roll Estate

threerollestate.jpg

It has become very difficult to take bottle shots in my home as of late, due to the incessant curiosity of my two best friends: Kiki and the black cat. That being said, I managed to eek out a clear image of the new Three Roll Estate rum labels now that the Louisiana brand has changed its name from Cane Land—despite Kiki’s efforts to block my view. The Baton Rouge distiller is producing one of the more impressive American craft spirit lineups I’ve tasted over the last year, providing a farm-to mill-to distillery-to glass spirit of immense quality, for a price that’s well within reason. Not that Americans are clamoring for more rum (despite what the internet wants you to believe), but those of us who want to see our domestic micro-distillation industry progress and thrive should be supporting well-made spirits of any kind, so long as they provide value for the dollar. From my limited tasting experience thus far, I’m here to tell you that Three Roll’s latest editions are certified farm-to-table delights.

The Alma Sugar Plantation in southeastern Pointe Coupee Parish

The Alma Sugar Plantation in southeastern Pointe Coupee Parish

Three Roll Estate (founded as Cane Land in 2013 by Walter Tharp) operates in conjunction with the Alma Sugar Plantation & Sugar Mill in Lakeland, also owned by the Tharp family, and produces some of the most dynamic cane spirits in the United States. Their absolutely killer Cachaça-inspired white rum has had me going back for seconds and thirds, drinking straight from the bottle as I can’t even wait for it to hit the glass. Made freshly during the three-month Louisiana sugar harvest and fermented with yeast sourced directly from Brazil, the nose alone is incredible, ranging from freshly-ground cinnamon notes, to cut grass and fermented cane, and I can’t get over the depth. The Alma Plantation is located in Louisiana’s alluvial flood plain, shaped by the varying paths of the Mississippi River, which reach up to fifteen feet deep, apparently providing for a more flavorful sugarcane and perhaps the complexity I’m alluding to. On the palate it’s dry as a bone and when sipped neatly the finish goes on for a solid ten minutes, smothering your taste buds with pure cane deliciousness.

The Dark Rum is another stupendous achievement, by far the most complex and satisfying of its kind I’ve ever tasted from a craft distillery, made from 100% black strap molasses. It is magical on the palate, brimming with character and intensity, having been first rested in French oak vats before a finishing maturation in American oak barrels. Again, however, it’s all about the nose for me: a stunningly-complex bouquet of coffee, cocoa, molasses, and cola, swirling around in a hedonistic splendor.

Three Roll has me very excited about rum again, let alone craft distillation. More excited than I’ve been in some time. Go get a bottle and see what you think.

-David Driscoll

Seeking Out Agave Value & Integrity

IMG_1608.jpg

I had a few emails yesterday from readers asking about choice Tequila expressions that refrain from diffusers and still offer value, as well as which mezcales I might recommend in a pinch. Let me start by saying this: there are more agave spirits than I can ever write about in the Pacific Edge book alone, let alone the market as a whole. I’ll also add that I rarely sip Tequila or mezcal these days, as most of my booze consumption is done either at home with my wife as we talk and sip cocktails, or out at the bar with my wife as we talk and sip cocktails. Although I live in L.A., I’m not hanging out with a bunch of dudes on the beach, savoring mezcal out of little copitas and waxing philosophically about life (although I do read the Surfer’s Journal religiously, despite the fact that I have never surfed once in my life—a matter I hope to change in the near future).

Nevertheless, I can tell you my list of Tequila sipping recommendations still goes as follows: ArteNOM from my boy Jake Lustig, Forteleza from the Sauzas, the new Calle 23 Criollo from Sophie Decobecq is pretty phenomenal (although pricy), and I still love Gran Dovejo as it’s an under-the-radar label sourced from NOM 1414, still my go-to distillery in Arandas run by the Vivanco family. When it comes to mezcal and other regional agave spirits, I’m blessed by my new proximity to the best labels in the business. Yuu Baal, Rancho Tepua, Fidencio, and Mezcales de Leyendas are all in my book, and there are dozens more I’m still getting to know, from everyday espadín expressions to rare and complex wild agave editions. But, like I said, I’m still into bargains. Since I’m a volume guy deep in my heart (as in I like to drink many cocktails over the course of an evening), I drink lighter, less-heavy libations, like a makeshift Paloma using Tequila, Curacao, and some grapefruit-flavored sparkling water. I might pour some low calorie lemonade into a glass of mezcal and ice while watching The Adventures of Ford Fairlane for the 500th time. That kind of thing.

Lately, when imbibing at home, I’ve been very much enjoying two brands that I never had the pleasure of tasting or selling during my retail days: Rayu espadín mezcal and Zapopan blanco Tequila, both offered in my preferred volume size of one liter (Rod Farva would be proud). You’ve probably seen Zapopan around if you shop at some of the grocery chains that specialize in packaging their own branded goods. It’s been a supermarket staple for years, and even though the agave shortages have had the price point inching up over the last few months, you can still find it for less than $20 at most locations. I’m also a big fan of Cimarron, made by my homie Enrique Fonseca and also available in a liter, but what I like about Zapopan is that it’s sweetly-spiced in contrast to the peppery and herbaceous quality of the Cimarron. Depending on what I’m in the mood for, I’ll reach for one of those two bottles as neither is selling me diffused juice. I’ve been very much enjoying the mellow and gentle nature of the Zapopan as of late, however.

sanjuandelrio.jpg

Someone else asked me via email how I really know when a Tequila does or doesn’t use a diffuser, looking to avoid the latter option in the marketplace. I like to think that I can taste the difference—the flat, neutral, artificially-flavored profile standing out against the citrus and spice one finds in a ripely-fermented agave product—but most of it is based on what I know about the producers. I trust my friends, my partners, and my colleagues when they tell me they don’t dabble in diffusers, but that’s all I can ever offer anyone in terms of proof. I say that as someone who has long preached that we as consumers can’t ever really know everything about what’s in these bottles unless we’re there to watch the process continually (which is, of course, not going to happen). I remember my father-in-law, a former chef, once telling me: “How should I know if the chicken is really organic or not? I didn’t follow it around for every day of its life, watching what it ate.” Therefore, as far as I know, I drink non-diffused Tequila, but I didn’t go to Mexico and watch how every batch of it was distilled before I put it into my mouth. I can’t know everything that happens behind the scenes, nor can anyone, and I’ve definitely been fooled before. I mean, Dennis Rader’s wife and kids thought he was best dad in the whole wide world until they found out he was actually one of the most brutal and maniacal serial killers in history, right?

Rayu mezcal is another big winner for me. It’s not going to blow anyone’s mind, but at $30 a liter for a clean, flavorful, smoky, and textural spirit, it’s going to make a lot of cocktail drinkers very happy. As I’m typing this, I’m sipping on a Rayu mezcal Paloma and loving life, taking in pure grapefruit tartness with just the slightest bit of savory smoke. I’ve traveled to Oaxaca with the teams from Danzantes, Alipus, and Don Amado in the past, so I’m very partial to those brands as well and you can’t go wrong with any of their stuff either. I still treasure the Danzantes Tobalá bottle I got to distill with Karolina Abad Rojas like it’s gold. But I only open that treasure trove once or twice a year for a special occasion.

In the meantime, I’m drinking liters of Zapopan and Rayu.

-David Driscoll

For the Love of Agave

agaves.jpg

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d talk about our current love affair with agave spirits and how it’s affecting the price/supply relationship. Shanken News ran a piece this week about how the demand for mezcal is driving up the price of agave in Oaxaca, similar to what we’ve seen happen with Tequila in Jalisco over the last few years. If you’re fluent in mezcal, then you’ll know that only some of the expressions on the market are made from cultivated agave like espadín, while the pricier and more boutique selections—tepeztate and madrecuixe, for example—are made from wild agave species that must be foraged. In layman’s terms, that means you can’t simply grow more when you need it. If wild agave becomes even more scarce, expect mezcal prices to go through the roof. The most telling line for me was this one:

“Many brands once used only wild agave, and now they’ve started to create seed banks after realizing they needed to change their ways due to the high demand.”

If you’re up to speed on what the agave shortage did to Tequila, I have one word for you: diffusers. That’s not to say that mezcal is going to become the next industrialized spirit, but rather that necessity is the mother of invention. Or desperate times call for desperate measures. Insert whatever adage you want, but know that the mezcal boom hasn’t even scratched the surface yet. As Tequila continues to get watered down from both mass and over-production, you’re going to see more and more everyday Americans turn to Oaxaca for a new twist on their Margarita. Mezcal is permeating American mass culture at a speed I’ve never seen in my career for what is most definitely a niche category. I remember when we thought finding 15-20 mezcales at a boutique retailer was a big deal. Now you can get mezcal at your local supermarket or bargain wholesaler.

Needless to say, whether you’re a Tequila drinker or a mezcal lover, you’re in for a future of price increases. Or questionable quality. Or both. I can tell you from behind the scenes that things are not looking pretty for those that purchase and contract 100% agave, non-diffuser Tequila, and now those same troubles are spreading south.

-David Driscoll

Happy Hour

gruven1.jpg

There’s a specific time in the late afternoon when the light hits my apartment in such a way that makes me both relaxed and thirsty. It’s my favorite part of the day. Work is winding down, the cats are itching for their dinner, and the sun is inching its way to the horizon, reflecting off the scattered bottles in my apartment, and enticing me with the thought of a cold beverage.

It’s happy hour, and I’m ready to whet my whistle.

Believe me when I say that, if you read this blog for the whiskey content, I’m well aware you’re probably in no way interested in 1.75 liters of Gruven vodka. As a specialty retailer, I wasn’t either. That being said, if you’re a bartender and you run a drinks program that measures profits by the ounce poured, I invite you to continue further. I’ve written continually and consistently over the years about my affinity for Polish vodka and my belief that it is indeed the best in the world. They’ve been making it in Poland for centuries, they have both high-quality rye and potatoes for distillation, and the water from the underground wells is some of the purest for dilution. That’s not to say one can’t make good vodka elsewhere, it’s just to say that I prefer the Polish version. I drink a LOT of vodka, and for the last five years I’ve consumed Belvedere and Potocki almost exclusively, due to that personal preference. That’s about to change, however; because I’ve just discovered Gruven at Pacific Edge—the best deal on Polish vodka I’ve ever encountered.

gruven2.jpg

(Bartenders: when you see the cost per bottle and taste the quality, you’ll be adding a Gruven Moscow Mule to your happy hour menu. Ounce for ounce, there’s no comparison.)

When you mention the word “deal” in association with vodka, you need to be specific as there’s no shortage of inexpensive options on the market. What makes Gruven such a deal is that, in my personal opinion, it’s every bit as clean as Belvedere and Potocki (in line with the classic Polish profile), and just as satisfying in my cocktail. More importantly, I put the purity element to work last night, slurping down four Moscow Mules during my own personal happy hour at home (the lighting was too perfect and I was in the mood). If you cut back on the sugar and use a top-notch vodka, you should be able to consume four solid cocktails and wake up just fine the next day (not that I’m recommending you do that). It’s just my own little test I like to do with a bulk spirit like Gruven. I use the Fever Tree “Light” Ginger Beer religiously (30 calories, but bursting with ginger), and I put the standard Gruven to work last night to analyze the results. Not only was each drink utterly delicious, I woke up this morning with a spring in my step: clear-headed and ready to meet the day!

Nothing is more important than using quality booze in your well for happy hour, otherwise your customers wake up the next day particularly unhappy. Unhappy customers don’t return for more unhappiness if they’re plied with cheap hooch and a hangover. Happy customers are the ones who come back again and again, which is why finding the right house vodka is much more of an art than the average consumer often thinks about. I know Mexican restaurateurs who have swapped out the house Tequila for a cheaper mixto, only to watch their happy hour clientele dwindle by the day. “I don’t get it,” one owner told me last year as we sat in his near-empty cantina. Really? It’s called a headache, dude.

I invite you to put Gruven vodka to the test. It’s going to be my house brand for the foreseeable future, and I wouldn’t recommend anything that I didn’t passionately consume myself. And wait until you see the price.

-David Driscoll

Shakedown, 1979

shakeys.jpg

I was never the biggest Smashing Pumpkins fan, but I did appreciate that perhaps their most famous and lasting hit was titled after my birth year. The song starts out:

Shakedown, 1979. Cool kids never have the time.

Now that I’m almost forty, I finally realize Billy Corgan was trying to send me a subliminal message about my childhood, Shakeys pizza, and the fact that I would eventually move to L.A., discover that the iconic parlor never closed like it did in Modesto circa 1996, and once again relish in its deliciousness, like I did as a kid after every MYSA soccer game.

shakeysbeer.jpg

“You just moved to LA and you want to eat at Shakeys?” people kept asking us.

Cool kids never have the time.

My wife and I, on the other hand, are not the cool kids. We’re not here to impress anyone and we keep it fucking real. In no way can we pretend that eating Shakeys pizza isn’t a big fucking deal because it most certainly is. Neither of us had felt the explosion of the mini sausage balls between our teeth in more than two decades. And the potatoes! Like the essence of childhood with every bite. The buffet bar was absolutely packed yesterday on Reseda Boulevard, and the flavor of the food was every bit as accurate as my memory. We were both almost in tears. The dream of the nineties may be alive in Portland, but the foundational essence of my nostalgic bliss is very much alive in the San Fernando Valley.

Case in point? This place…

brady.jpg

You may have heard that the Brady Bunch home recently went up for sale, and a number of celebrities (like Lance Bass from NSync) were ultimately outbid by HGTV. The network plans to make a reality show out of the restoration, and I can’t wait to document the progress. It’s literally just a few miles down the road from our place, so I’ll be walking by on the regular and snooping over the fence. As I was searching for the address, however, I learned that my all-time favorite television home was just a few more miles down the 405. I couldn’t believe it, so we hopped in the car to see it for ourselves.

golden.jpg

Talk about tugging at your heartstrings! I so badly wanted to run to the door, kick it open, and see Dorothy on the couch reading the newspaper, with Rose, Blanche, and Sophia in the kitchen drinking coffee.

I’ve wanted to live in this house since I was a kid. I had no idea it was in Brentwood, not Miami.

-David Driscoll

Valley Nights

divegandt.jpg

I spent most of my twenties (and, between you and me, my late teens) drinking at dive bars. Not sketchy or dangerous dive bars, by any means, although I have been to plenty of those as well. I’m talking about plain old watering holes with the usual selection of branded booze, sports on the television, perhaps a food menu with nothing healthy on it, and blue collar, working class people just looking for a place to visit with their friends. No one is necessarily dressed up. Everyone is friendly (until around 2 AM). Most are just looking for somewhere affordable to pass a few hours, get a buzz on, and socialize with the world. Then call it a night.

In my mid-thirties, dive bars began to vanish—at least where I lived near San Francisco. It’s not hard to understand why. The loss of local dive bars correlated entirely with the loss of the local working class. The disparity between rich and poor has increased tremendously over the last decade, sending Bay Area rents and property values into the stratosphere, and culminating in a mass exodus of local workers and business owners alike. Today, when you want to go out for cocktails, you can choose between a fancy $15 martini at the latest chic lounge, likely named (insert food-related noun) & (insert nature-related noun), or a barstool at the nearest corporate chain. There are still a few hidden gems if you know where to look, but they’re often ghost towns, remnants of a past no longer coveted by the new populace.

ketodiet2.jpg

The San Fernando Valley, on the other hand, has not yet suffered the same fate, which is why I feel very much at home already. There are entire neighborhoods that feel like nothing has changed since 1971, making every night an opportunity to relish that incredible nostalgia. Last night, for example, my wife and I took a walk up Van Nuys Boulevard and found ourselves behind a couple of $5 gin and tonics, laughing and chatting with fellow forty-year olds on a no-frills Saturday night. Since we’re both following a strict keto diet, we decided to go all the way with nachos, a grilled cheese, fries, mozzarella sticks, and a French dip that made me feel 15 years old again. I think our tab at the end of the night was $50, and that included four cocktails. It was energizing. We both woke up this morning feeling renewed (and that was after two bottles of wine, as well). It was like waking up from a happy dream.

moonover.jpg

Last night was also a gorgeous evening for a walk, the moon sitting high above Ventura Boulevard as we made our way home. I’m very much smitten by the valley’s diverse selection of store fronts, shops, bars, restaurants, and people, as total gentrification still seems very far away. Most young singles want to live in West Hollywood or near the beach, while the young families are now buying in Altadena and the lovely enclaves to the east. The valley, however, remains the valley: a giant swath of strip malls with some pretty great things sandwiched in between. We chatted with a group of skateboarding teens on the way to dinner, and on the way back a guy asked us if we wanted to smoke crystal meth.

I love it here.

-David Driscoll

More Batched Deliciousness

barrell18.jpg

Another delicious batch of Barrell Bourbon just hit our warehouse, Batch #17 to be exact: a marriage of Bourbons ranging from 10 years, to 14 and 15 year old barrels. It’s bottled at 56.25% so it packs a punch, and it could not be more different from Batch 16, which I have to admit makes it much easier for me to sell!

Whereas #16 had this big, sweet candy corn profile with lots of baking spices, batch #17 is much more herbaceous, but—and this is important—without losing any of the richness. There’s much more of a savory note at play, herbs and spices that almost remind me of a liqueur, but it’s all bolstered by the mature mouthfeel one expects from whiskies of 14 and 15 years of age. It’s mouth-coating, rich, and textural, which makes it ultimately all so satisfying. The extra dashes of complexity are just there to make it fun, which is why Barrell’s blending prowess has tickled the fancy of many a whiskey drinker over the last year.

Can’t to wait to get out on the road with this baby next week! My accounts are going to be thrilled.

-David Driscoll

Closer to Clydeside

clydeside.png

I caught up with the Morrisons this week who are busy plugging away with their distillation of Glasgow’s next great single malt. I finally got a look at the new Clydeside label and packaging as well, and I was very, very pleased. Modern, yet classy. Clean, yet striking. I love the colors and the way they pop against the amber backdrop of the whisky. It’s so exciting to see this progress! We were chatting about the possibility of privately-owned, single casks for people like myself who want to spend thousands of dollars on their very own personal barrel of Clydeside single malt. Apparently there is an insider’s group called the Ballast Club that can facilitate this kind of thing, so we chatted more about what that would entail. In short, if you’re interested in a club like this, let me know. I don’t believe they’re opening casks up to the general public, but I can pull a few strings on my end for fellow Morrison superfans. Send me an email if you’re interested. I will be signing up myself this week, so I can walk you through the logistics.

queenmorrison.png

While we sharing photos back and forth, Stan showed me this photo of his dad meeting the queen back in 1980, while still managing Morrison-Bowmore. My wife and I have this inside joke where, because Stan looks very much like royalty, we think he’s secretly related to the crown. We’ve been calling him “the Prince” for almost a decade privately, whenever referring to him in conversation. This photo is only more evidence of that aristocratic association! I knew it all along!

beanie.png

A few days after our conversation, a box arrived for me with a sample of the Clydeside white dog (deliciously fruity and fine), and the most awesome beanie ever. Make sure you add Glasgow to your distillery destination list if you’re whisky-tasting your way through Scotland. If the viscosity and vibrant character of that spirit sample are any indication, I have a feeling the Morrisons are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the malt world very soon (once again).

-David Driscoll