My entire life I have loved the acquisition of knowledge. Just about all information becomes useful at some point in your life. Most of the people who know me find my seemingly random collection of obscure knowledge rather amusing and joke about my random past careers. Although this is a blog about whiskey in particular it will likely encompass many other spirits and topics as time goes by – because it is all useful, helpful and interesting! Each spirit seems to have a library of knowledge that could be appreciated and I doubt I will have time to truly understand most of them but knowledge of each adds to my appreciation whiskey – so here we go.
In my first blog post I mentioned Darrell Corti as a mentor of sorts. He has been in this role for many years and is best known for his wine and food involvement. I dropped by Corti Brothers today to pick up another bottle of Wolfburn‘s “Northland” expression and he happened to be in the store. This is the holiday season at Corti Brothers and there’s no busier time for a store such as his. The selection of food, wines and culinary supplies that Darrell has sourced from all over the globe have people flocking to his store for the holidays. Even as he approaches 80 years old he makes time, in his blue grocer’s smock, to be available for his customers. I am aware of how valuable his time is and how many in the store are trying to obtain a little of it so I rarely corner him for a conversation. This morning the crowd was light, he seemed in the mood to chat and we were able to discuss whiskey.
Sourced products with the Corti label have always been one of the hallmarks of this store. Darrell travels to the source to find the finest expressions of whatever he is currently interested in. This practice has been responsible for many items being imported into this country that we today take for granted. (You do like balsamic vinegar and parmigiano reggiano, right? Yep, he brought them to us first.) When possible he always tries to find a selection of products that he feels are either superior or an excellent representation of the species to be bottled, boxed, packaged & labeled for the Corti Brothers grocery store. This practice is what brought him to the Stitzel-Weller distillery and the Van Winkle family in the 1970’s in search of excellent examples of American whiskey. He is a busy man and when I have an opportunity to discuss spirits with him I often gravitate to his Van Winkle whiskey bottlings and details of how he chose the barrels, his knowledge of their distillation, storage, etc… This knowledge is valuable as it seems most knowledge of these older whiskeys & processes is mainly rumor and lore these days. It is rare to get first hand accounts from someone with a photographic memory. I digress. . . whiskey is not exactly what I am discussing today but instead – learning. These discussions usually branch into all sorts of topics from wood, grains, climate, political instability – just about anything that could somehow influence the final product.
During today’s discussion I was showing Darrell several photos on my iPhone of certain bottles in my collection. In one photo he pointed to a bottle behind the one I was focused on and asked, “what is that one?” The picture was slightly out of focus but I knew the bottle immediately. It was a bottle of Fortaleza tequila that I brought home with me from Mexico earlier this year. I enjoyed telling him a little about the local family craft production of a product in a traditional manner. Immediately he walked me over to a shelf and pointed to a rather cheap looking bottle stating, “You need to buy this.” This is often how the lessons begin. As is the case with most things, the acquisition of some knowledge leads simply to more questions or, at Corti Brothers, side trips that are usually fascinating, educational and sometimes expensive!
From that spark of tequila in our discussion he began to explain how Comiteco, a distilled spirit from made from the fermentation of pulque, and why it is not tequila although related. As it is with many spirits, the enjoyment and appreciation is most rewarding if you explore its origins & variations. Every liquor or spirit has a unique story and this story not only tells you about the spirit but a little about the people, the region and the how it relates to others around it. The production of comiteco is a unique process that likely began when the Spaniards arrived. Although these fermented agave juices have been used as alcoholic beverage for hundreds of years in the region, the art of distillation had not arrived until the Spaniards brought the stills. You could say this is one of the first distilled spirits unique and representative of this region. So let’s start our learning now that the opportunity has presented itself. My comparison for tonight’s tasting is a 2013 Fuentesca Cosecha “Huerta Singular” that I bought last year from K&L Wines in San Francisco.
The Comiteco is all toasted nuts with sweet vegetal stalks and stems. Honeysuckle and rose. Some alcohol burn. Aloe.
The Fuentesca has a sweet medicinal antiseptic slightly vegetal peaty note. Malted grains. Agave. (obviously)
The Comiteco arrives on the palate with a bittersweet caramel and fruit. Some kiwi and sour pineapple with a light citrus. The bitter note gives way to a pleasantly mild alcohol numbing of the lips and tongue. The more savory vegetal notes then appear but a sweet syrup lingers and overall it has a viscous mouthfeel.
The Fuentesca arrives with a nicely mingled mango, dried apricot & nuts. The sweetness builds and brings black peppercorns which slowly fade to a clean finish.
Water and 10 Minutes Later . . .
Comiteco’s nose now has less sugar and more vegetal. Spinach leaves. A slightly musty grape syrup. The arrival is now less sweet and offers more complex leafy notes. The sugar does develop with some melon notes.
The Fuentesca’s nose does not seem to change much. The arrival is now softer with a light peat and develops a more clove or sezchuan pepper tingling on the tongue. A touch of bitterness helps cleans your mouth and it finishes cleans.