Friday, March 17, 2017

A rant from the Afro.

From time to time I may use my version of a soap box to just rant, and this is one of those times. And while this may seem like a “No Duh” statement to some of you, I wouldn’t have had the experiences I did if it was common knowledge. So, to all the Sales Representatives out there, whether you’re a 20+ year veteran or brand new to the job, remember one thing; your attitude reflects the people who gave you your business card. And this really goes for any line of work, but since it’s in the title for Sales Representatives, and that’s where my rant originates from, let’s focus on that.

Almost 4 years ago, I was at a trade event and walked up to the table/booth of one of the bigger Bourbon Distilleries out there. In fact, this was the first Bourbon Distillery I went to after I turned 21. Growing up in The Wine Country I had seen their bottles for years, and their entry level Bourbon was one of the first Bourbons I tried. So, when I turned 21 (2010) living just an hour outside of Bourbon County, touring that distillery was one of the things I wanted to do. My family came out to celebrate the event and we had a blast there. A great tour, funny stories, great pictures and very fond memories. Jump forward to 2013 and I’m in front of this booth talking to a very nice young woman, Halie, about the fact that I lived in Louisville for 5 years, how their Distillery was my first stop the day I turned 21 and how the whole experience was really nice. She in turn says “Let me introduce you to Mr. Smith”.

Mr. Smith wasn’t just a Sales Representative, he ran all the sales for this distillery, the guy who controlled the allocations of their rare and unique stuff. Mr. Smith was just wrapping up talking to another person at the event and Halie says “John, this is Jeremy, he works at The Wine Country, he’s actually been to the Distillery and just wanted to say ‘Hi’.” I reached out my hand, like polite people do when meeting someone for the first time, to which Mr. Smith just takes a quick look at me and says “Yea, if you want our specialty stuff make sure your carry Product X, Product Y and Product Z and I can get you a few bottles of A, B, or C.” then just turns around and stops talking to me. I had no intentions in talking shop with Mr. Smith, I just wanted to share my happy memories of the place he calls work, just wanted to thank him for what he does and just wanted to say hello. I wear my emotions on my face most the time and I could tell by the look Halie was giving me, slightly shocked, that I was wearing a stunned look. And it was in that 45 seconds I lost all favor for that Distillery. That awesome day spent at the Distillery, my enjoyment of their Bourbons, all disappeared with one guy being a tool. 

Just under 1 year and a half ago I was at another trade event, this time I was on the hunt for Agave Spirits. When I moved back to California in 2012, I really got into Agave; Tequilas, Mezcals, Bacanoras, Sotols, Raicillas, I love them all and still get super pumped when I find something new. And at this event I did, this newer Mezcal producer with some funny merchandise and a cool look. I walk up to the booth and start talking to their Sales Representative. I tell him about The Wine Country, I tell him how I’ve been looking for new Mezcals and was interest in what he was selling. The guy, we’ll call him Al, says “Oh cool” then pours me their Blanco and goes back to looking at his phone. Doesn’t tell me what type of Agave they use, how long they roast the Agave hearts for, dude doesn’t say anything to me besides “We like to let the drink speak for itself.” Well in this interaction the Mezcal did more talking than him for sure. I tried the Mezcal and it was pretty good, nice rounded flavors and good depth to it. After taking a few notes (yes, I’m the guy who takes notes at a trade event), I looked up and waited for Al to see if I wanted to try either of the Mezcals that had been aged for a little bit. Instead of that, Al was on his phone. 

Now I’m not trying to act like I’m some big deal in the booze industry because I’m not. But when it comes to retail stores in Southern California, my store is a big deal and somewhere a lot of people would like to see their stuff sold. And I wasn’t expecting Al to know that but seriously dude, Mezcal is still trying to get off the ground if you’re looking at it in a popularity sense. If someone is in front of you trying to geek out on something I’m sure he had to walk people through 100s of times that day, making your job easier because I know the basics of making the product, why not spend some time with the person and just talk to them? Since then I have had people try to sell me that product, and I have run into Al once or twice since that too. And to all of it I say the same thing every time, “Nah, I’m good.” 

When you are the representative for something or someone you must think about more than yourself. Because that company/person is counting on you to make them look good. And like I said, this can be related to any job really. You think people who leave bad Yelp reviews about restaurants are mad at the owners of the restaurant? No, they’re mad at the server who was rude, the chef who under cooked their steak then overcooked it, or the bartender who kept messing up their cocktails. But that's the first thing they'll think of when considering going back to that restaurant. Or since they’re on Yelp, they might just be a pain in the ass. But this is something I deal with at least 5 days a week. When someone comes into The Wine Country and needs my help, no matter how annoying they might get, how irritating their questions are, I treat them with the respect that everyone deserves. Why? Because when they leave there I want them to say “Man, that store was awesome, I want to come back here all the time!” Not, “Nah, I’m good.”  

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Tequila Long Beachians need to know

Now as a Southern Californian, I love Tequila. With us being so close to Mexico, with there being so much Mexican influence in our region’s culture, Tequila was one of the first alcohols I tried. As someone who has grown up in a Family Owned Business, I appreciate when Family Traditions stay with businesses as they grow. So when I got back home from my trip to Jalisco, Mexico, spending time in both Tequila (yes, that is a real town) and Guadalajara, I found myself appreciating Fortaleza Tequila even more than I did before the trip. And the one thing that stuck with me more than anything else from that trip was when I was able to sit and talk to Guillermo Erickson Sauza (The reason we have Fortaleza Tequila) while he was signing bottles of his own Libations for me. He asked where I was from, to which I proudly stated “Long Beach.” His face slightly light up and he said “That’s awesome man, we’re still trying to make our way into the Long Beach Market.” Which honestly shocked the hell out of me! 

In the past 5-10 years Long Beach has been going through a resurgence. Just look at the overhaul Downtown Long Beach has had if you need proof. Not only Downtown, but all over Long Beach there are fantastic bars with great spirits list and awesome cocktails. So how is it that in a town as beautiful as Long Beach, some of the most beautiful Tequila out on the market isn’t being drunk? Some of you might be rolling your eyes at the term “beautiful Tequila”, but when you understand the history in the Erickson Sauza family, the way they run their business, the taste of their products and the honesty and realness of the Father and Son duo that is Guillermo and Billy. There is no other way to describe their Tequilas besides beautiful.

When Guillermo launched Fortaleza in 2005 he wasn’t some dude just trying to cash in on a growing market. On the contrary, Guillermo grew up thinking he would be selling Tequila, the Tequila his ancestors had been making since Don Cenobio opened the distillery La Perseverancia in 1873 in Tequila, Jalisco. But those dreams were shot down when his Grandfather, Don Javier, sold the Family business in 1976. If you recognize Guillermo’s last name, you can guess who his Grandfather sold the business to. But Don Javier was a smart man, while he sold the business itself, he kept the Family’s land, their Hacienda and the distillery he had built in Tequila named Fortaleza. And it was with these 3 properties that Guillermo was able to continue his family’s tradition of making Tequila by using stone ovens to cook the Agave, crushing the cooked plant with a Tahona (2-ton stone wheel) and fermenting in giant oak vats. Putting their three Tequilas, Blanco, Reposado and Añejo, in glass bottles that are all hand blown and capping them with decorative corks representing the piña, which is the heart of Tequila, that are handmade. If you talk to either Guillermo of Billy, you can tell they are men of the time, both living in 2017 just like the rest of us. But if you talk to them about how they make their Tequila, or are lucky enough to see how they make it, it’s like stepping back in time to the turn of the 1900s.

It is that attention to detail, that much care into the process of making Tequila that resonated with me when it came to Fortaleza. In a time where Spirits companies flat out make up grand stories about how they have a long tradition, or how they make their product just how their founders did, and at over a million cases, it was reassuring to see Guillermo and Billy back up their claims. Now as they say, the proof is in the pudding, I can wax poetically all day about the history of Fortaleza, no really, the degree in history allows me to. But how does that transfer to the bottle? Can you taste the work put into making that Blanco, that Reposado, that Añejo? Does a sip of any of them transport you to Guillermo sitting at Panteon Mezquitan during Dia de Los Muertos paying homage to his ancestors or to Billy tasting with you in the Cave at the Distillery sharing his family’s history? As someone who had drank Fortaleza before I went on this trip, I knew it was unique. After the trip, I now know what makes it so.

Commonly when a Blanco Tequila is enjoyed, it is either in shot form along with salt and lime, lemon if you’re real desperate or in a Margarita. None of that is needed when drinking Fortaleza Blanco Tequila. A mild creaminess coats your palate leading to a very pleasant mouthfeel. Delicate notes of salt and robust flavors of the Agave come out, giving it a somewhat earthen rustic profile. The creaminess lingers allowing the drink to be very smooth. While I think this Tequila would be a shame to just shoot back, this is the shot of Tequila Blanco you give to people when you want to prove not all Blancos are created equal. And it will keep you away from anything called “Silver” again. 

When you take a wonderful Tequila Blanco and put it in used American Oak for 7 months, only good things can happen right? Light hints of oak come out; subtle coco flavors, a touch of cinnamon and a delicate smokiness from the char of the barrel itself. The creaminess of the Blanco is not lost, but allows the oak flavors to layer on top of it. Causing a bit more of a warming sensation than the Blanco, the Reposado is made to be on the rock, cause you only need one ice cube, and enjoyed slowly. 

With 2 years of age in American Oak barrels, how could Fortaleza Tequila Añejo not be out of this world? Rich notes of coco and caramel explode onto your palate with a bright cracked pepper characteristic to balance the sweet flavors out. Lighter Agave herbal notes pair with hints of cinnamon and vanilla. The creaminess of the vanilla just adds to the lovely decadents of this Añejo Tequila.
So this is my call out to you Long Beach, the city I love, the place I will always call home no matter where I live. Our lovely city deserves to drink lovely Tequila. A Tequila that has just as much heart, depth and soul as we do, and one that is made with only good intentions. Long Beach, it’s time to say hello to Fortaleza.