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An Insider's guide to restaurants, wine, spirits and culinary travel

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reflections on casamigos, george clooney's                                     billion-dollar tequila

Yesterday, beverage giant Diageo announced they were buying the Casamigos tequila brand for $1 billion: $700 million up front, and the rest in performance incentives. Casamigos was founded four years ago by George Clooney and his friend Rande Gerber, husband of supermodel Cindy Crawford.

There have been large spirits deals before, most notably when Grey Goose was sold to Bacardi for a reported $2.2 billion---but that was back in 2004, when a couple of billion dollars was still considered to be a lot of money. Remember, though, that Grey Goose was a best-selling vodka at the pinnacle of the vodka craze. In the current environment, it’s easy to imagine a billion-dollar deal for a bourbon brand, but tequila is another category entirely.

Here’s the interesting part of this situation: the buddies insist that Casamigos was initially made just for themselves, as a house tequila. They were both building homes in a Los Cabos resort complex and were dissatisfied with the quality of the tequila they were drinking, so Clooney suggested they make their own for private consumption. The two partnered with Mike Meldman, developer of the Los Cabos complex. “We created it to drink with our friends,” says Gerber. “It wasn’t intended for the public, but once the word got out, we couldn’t resist sharing it with everyone.”

As PR spin and image creation go, that line is pretty good (“Aw shucks, we were just fooling around in the treehouse and had no idea it would catch on.”). But the validity of that message is blurred by the fact that Clooney and Gerber hired Lee Einsidler as the CEO of Casamigos---the very same guy who launched Grey Goose and took it to $2.2 billion seven years later. The tequila may well have been tailored to their personal taste, but they had larger ambitions.

I haven’t tried Casamigos, nor have I been offered samples (although they can well afford to, after yesterday). It fits firmly into the super-premium niche, with the three expressions---Blanco, Reposado and Anejo---selling for $45, $50 and $55 respectively. According to industry sources, the Reposado and Anejo account for half the company’s sales. Since Blanco is used in most drink recipes and is the powerhouse for many tequila brands, the sales mix would seem to indicate that Casamigos is successfully appealing to a connoisseur market. Very shortly, I would expect to see them issue a tequila with special selection or extended barrel aging for $125-150.

To what extent was the popularity of Casamigos influenced by the profile of the principles? There are many celebrity-sponsored wine and spirits brands on the market, but few have had this kind of success. Of course, a number of them were established by rappers (P. Diddy, Ludacris, PitBull, Jay Z, etc.). Xzibit’s ultra-premium tequila, Bonita Platinum, is chill-filtered three times and sells for $105, but no one has yet offered him a billion for it. You may or may not be sweet on George Clooney, but he’s a hard guy to dislike. You could say that the parameters of the deal might have been different if the partners were George Schwartz and Ralph Gerber, but for the moment Clooney’s twins definitely have a new pair of shoes.

                          glass half full 6/21/2017

A roundup of the most interesting food, wine and spirits stories on the web recently (because even Al Gore, who invented it, doesn't have time to read it all).

Katz’s Deli is on the move:

Several weeks ago we reported that Katz’s, the legendary deli on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, was building a production facility in New Jersey and planning to ship worldwide (The Global Power of Pastrami). Now it seems they’ve opened in Dekalb Market Hall in Brooklyn, a culinary center showcasing 40 vendors “who reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of the borough.”

Here’s one blogger’s account of a Katz’s pastrami sandwich in Brooklyn:


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                                  japanese whisky

Can Japanese whisky be just as good as it's Scottish counterpart? The world of distilled spirits was thrown into an uproar when the 2015 edition of The Whisky Bible (Whitman Publishing, $19.95) named the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 the world’s best whisky. The annual roundup is edited by expert Jim Murray, who gave the Yamazaki 97.5 points out of a possible 100 and claimed it had a flavor of “near indescribable genius.”

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     the southern steak and oyster bar, nashville

It’s not easy to bridge the gap between funk and fusion, but The Southern Steak and Oyster Bar in Nashville manages to do just that.

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                        glass half full 6/15/2017

A roundup of the most interesting stories on the web recently (because even Al Gore, who invented it, doesn't have time to read it all).

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                       etch restaurant, nashville

The conventional wisdom is that Nashville is the new Charleston, but there are differences. In Nashville, the frenzied pace of high-rise construction is obliterating what’s left of the historic downtown. Like Charleston, though, restaurants exist on one end of a continuum: either rustic, down-home BBQ joints or temples of new-wave fusion.

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                        a primer on vietnamese food

                                                                  By Ken Schechet

This is the last in a series of dispatches from our correspondent, who has been eating his way through Asia

I have been to Vietnamese restaurants in the United States, France, and several Asian countries.  I recently spent two weeks eating my way from one end of Vietnam to the other and quickly realized that before I got here I had absolutely no clue what Vietnamese food was all about.

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                                 hanoi street food

                                                                      By Ken Schechet

Eating his way through Asia, our correspondent has reached Vietnam. Here is his report on the street food vendors of Hanoi.

Like many foodies I have a Tony Bourdain addiction.  I have followed him through three networks, actually ran into him filming in a butcher shop in Tuscany, and have seen every show he’s done from his favorite country, Vietnam.  According to a recent New York Times Magazine story he seriously considered moving to Vietnam, specifically Hanoi, a few years ago.  So Vietnam went to the top of my bucket list and I finally got there recently.

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                 speyburn: Affordable single malts

Speyburn was founded by John and Edward Hopkins, two brothers from Speyside, in 1897. They located their distillery near the town of Rothes and close to a pure water source, the Granty Burn, which was a tributary of the River Spey. John Hopkins appointed Charles Doig, the celebrated distillery architect, to design the plant, and Speyburn still has the classic pagoda ventilator for which Doig is best known.

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                              singapore street food

                                                                    By Ken Schechet

This is the second in a series of dispatches from our correspondent, Ken Schechet, who is eating his way through Asia.

Singapore is probably the most food obsessed place I’ve ever been.  It is a constant topic of conversation.  Cab drivers ask you where you’ve eaten.  It’s a place where WTF stands for “Where’s the Food”  (I didn’t make that up.  It was on a billboard.)  Being a major trading and banking center there are no end of fine restaurants, but what Singapore is famous for is street food.

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                              singapore food wars

                                                                  By Ken Schechet

This is the first in a series of dispatches from our correspondent Ken Schechet, who is eating his way through Asia.

If you’ve ever been to South Philadelphia and are a foodie, you have probably been to the corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue where the two signature cheese steak joints, Pat’s and Gino’s, are directly across the street from each other and staring each other down constantly.  Of course, you need to try them both.  Rivalries like these are so delicious to me, on so many levels, that when I heard about two similar situations in Singapore I had to see them on a recent visit.

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                     great wine for under $15?

It’s not a typo, oxymoron or stupid question. There’s a lot of very good wine at very low prices, but discovering it is a challenge---particularly when you’re strolling the wine aisle of your local supermarket or beverage superstore, staring at a tsunami of unfamiliar labels.

The answer is Mark Spivak’s Affordable Wine Guide to California and the Pacific Northwest, available as an e-book for $7.99. The book profiles 43 producers and contains hundreds of wine reviews, and gives you a clear-cut view of the good and the bad. The criteria are simple: What does the wine taste like? What kind of food does it go with? Is it worth the money?

Click here to order (fulfillment is handle by E-Junkie and payments processed through PayPal):

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