Old whisky, new mezcal, and other unexpected spirits

Photo: Kevin R. Kosar

A few months back, a friend came to town from Tennessee. His schedule was jammed as was mine, but I was eager to see him. He works in insurance and I inevitably learn a lot when he explains  the various fallouts of Obamacare and Trump’s subsequent war against it.

“I have something from George Dickel to bring you for review,” he added. That was that. Logistics be damned, we were going to meet.

He came by my office and pulled from his bag a small of gold from Tullahoma—George Dickel Reserve 17-Year Old Tennessee Whisky (43.5% ABV; 87 proof). There is a whole cockamamie story about how this whisky was a happy accident; some barrels got mis-inventoried or somesuch. I love the folks at Dickel but I am not sure I buy it. That, however, is neither here nor there. This is the longest aged Tennessee whiskey to be found, and you can sip it straight with ease. The deep copper liquor offers notes of corn, white pepper, caramel, apple, and toffee. Wow.

George Dickel 17-Year is not cheap. A half-sized bottle (375 ml) runs around $75. But for the American whiskey fan, or for friends enjoying a rare meet-up, it is more than worth it.


Being a drinks writer has its perks. One never knows when a courier will arrive with an unexpected delivery. On occasion I have shrank back in horror when I opened a box to find dill pickle vodka or a similarly evil concoction. Typically, though, I receive good drinks.

So it was that I met the acquaintance of La Luna Mezcal, a new entrant to the American market. The bottle I received is numero 307 from Lot 7, and weighs in at a whopping 49.56% ABV (99.12 proof). Continue reading “Old whisky, new mezcal, and other unexpected spirits”


American Craft Beer Comes to Mexico

Carmen Beer CoWhen you think of Mexican beer, light lagers like Corona, Pacifico, and Negro Modelo probably come to mind. But American-style craft beer also has been gaining market-share for years. With 60 million potential customers and $20 billion in annual revenue, the Mexican beer market is an appealing target.

Some U.S.-made stouts, ales and other hearty beers currently are imported to Mexico. Most full-flavored microbrews, however, are being produced by local breweries.

As best anyone can tell, the craft brew trend began in the mid-1990s. Which brewer came first is unclear. Some say it was Pepe y Joe’s brewpub in Mazatlán. Others point to Cerveza Cosaco microbrewery in Hidalgo or Cervecería San Angel in Mexico City.

Small brewers got a boost in 2013 when the Mexican Federal Competition Committee banned some of the most egregious protectionist practices of big brewers. No longer would the big boys be permitted to lock bars and retailers into exclusivity agreements that shut out smaller competitors. Starting a small brewery in Mexico remains a challenge, but perhaps 300 of them have sprung up.

Continue reading “American Craft Beer Comes to Mexico”


Great Drinks for Dad On Father’s Day

El BuhoMan does not live by bread alone. And a father, well, he needs even more, what with the middle of the night wake-ups, the tantrums, and the exploded filthy diapers. I have four children. Under the age of 10. Just this evening, my four-year old got out of bed 7 or 8 times with assorted excuses, including “My eye hurts.”

Yes, my needs are many.

Come father’s day, my hope is that I can slip out at the sunrise and head to the river. There I’ll rent a rowboat, and make my way onto the water still turbid from today’s rain. Cormorants and other birds will lead me to a promising spot. I’ll pitch my anchor, bait treble hook rigs, and let the heavy line from two rods sink in the Potomac. With any luck, the catfish will hit, and I’ll return to dock midday feeling like a master caster.

That’s how I want to start my day.

And I will conclude Dad Day sitting outside with a glass in hand. A special day justifies a special drink, one I know and love. The possibilities are many, but any of these would do quite nicely:

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon: I really like this whiskey. It comes in a bulbous, perfume-like bottle that shows its deep amber color. Sometimes I can handle this 90 proof drink straight up; but usually I prefer it with a single ice cube, which softens it so I can better enjoy its rich flavors. It is worth every penny of the $30 to $35 a bottle my local retailer charges. Continue reading “Great Drinks for Dad On Father’s Day”


Mezcal, Micro-distilling, and Economics

Del Maguey TobalaDana Goodyear has a marvelous, lengthy piece in the April 4, 2016 copy of the New Yorker on Mezcal.

Tequila has gotten a lot of limelight in recent years, but Goodyear reminds readers that tequila is but one of the many types of mezcal. And whereas tequila is mostly produced by hulking distilleries, mezcal mostly is made by micro-distilleries utilizing old-fashioned and unusual techniques.

Not to pat ourselves on the back, but…. 15 years ago AlcoholReviews.com called attention to the wonders of mezcal when we posted reviews of Del Maguey mezcals. Back then, mezcal still was commonly viewed in America as the crappy half-cousin of tequila.

Anyhoo, Goodyear’s article is a peach, and you can read it at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/04/04/the-mezcal-tour-of-oaxaca


Artá Tequila (Silver)

Cinco de Mayo 2011 is here, and it is time for something special.

Have a look at this bottle—it is terrific bit of design.  Its triangular shape is both hyper-modern and ancient-looking.  The blue delta and clear bottle evoke the ocean and sky.  A fat cork top seals the bottle.  This bottle of Artá (or ARTA) looks very sharp on a shelf.

What is in the bottle also is impressive.  This silver—or plata or blanco as it often is called—tequila is 100% agave.  (ARTA also comes in Reposado and Anejo versions.)  It was produced by Corporacion Ansan, and retails for $42 or so.

Th nose and flavor are lovely—it is not boozy in the least.  Artá Blanco shows citrus, pepper, and plenty of agave.  Lovely.  (Rating ****1/4)

You can read more about ARTA Silver (80 proof) at http://www.ArtaTequila.com/#/blanco


Hornitos Tequilas

Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner and it is time for a Tequila 101 lesson.

This review is directed toward those readers who are new to Tequila.  We advise you to forget everything you have “learned” about Tequila in college bars and from dopey American movies. Worms in bottles, shots taken with licks of salt off your wrist and a bite of lime, blackouts… Put all that from your minds.

Instead, recognize that tequila is a complex, classy spirit, one that your palate can appreciate with a bit of practice.  (Read: By drinking it slowly in small sips.)

A nice way to begin your tequila education is to belly up to a bar and order three shots of Hornitos—Plata, Resposado, and Anejo.  Each can be served in a shot glass, but we prefer a small rocks glass so that you can swirl it about.  Whatever you do, do not have your tequila poured in a white wine or other narrow mouthed glass.  Such glasses funnel the spirits’ fumes up your nose overwhelming and dulling your sense of smell and taste.

Taste a few small sips of the Plata, giving yourself a minute between each sip.  Note that it is water clear, and pretty soft in the mouth for an 80 proof spirit.  It is a little dry on the tongue, a bit herbal, and might strike you as slightly salty and sour.  (Rating ***1/2)

After having a sip of water and letting your mouth refresh itself, repeat the same with the dull straw-colored Reposado. Putting it under your nose you’ll find it smells a bit sweeter. In the mouth it will taste similar to the Plata, but a little fuller and deeper—this is the product of it sitting in barrel for a couple of months. (Rating ****)

Finally, you are ready for the most robustly flavored of the bunch—Anejo, which has the color that’s a bit like red tinted whiskey.  Here is where you can see tequila moving into a whole different realm—the Anejo is a little like dark rum.  A year or more in barrel produces a tequila that tastes of barrel—there’s a soft roasted flavor, along with a hint of vanilla.  (Rating ****)

Having carried out this exercise, you can now feel free to shoot back the remainder in each of your glasses.  But having learned what learned, why would you?

You can read a bit more about Hornitos at http://www.HornitosTequila.com/ And you can see if our retailer can sell you Hornitos Tequila by clicking here.