Category Archive: SPIRITS

Breaking Down Mezcal: Los Javis

Posted on June 21, 2019


breaking down mezcal

I was recently asked by my friends Javier & Jaime Mateo, owners of Los Javis Mezcal to write tasting notes for the release of their new “silvestre” (wild) mezcals.  I was excited to taste the new expressions; but more so, honored beyond belief that they would ask me to write the notes for their new bottles.  One evening I sat at my dining room table and poured out the mezcals. My approach to this was a bit different.  I decided to close my eyes and smell them first. I immediately wrote down where I imagine myself to be. Each mezcal took me to a different place. I then dove in and tasted the mezcals and jotted down a bunch of note in a stream of conscious manner.

Before I get into my notes, lets look at the process Los Javis uses to make their mezcals.  Javier Mateo Sr. is married to Gloria who was born in a different village. Being that they have families in two villages, they have access to more agaves.  Oaxaca is communal and agaves are only shared with those that belong to that community. Their humble distillery ins Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca produces mezcal in the artesenal way. They cook their agaves in stone pit on top pf stones fired by a fire from white oak and mesquite. Most pits are covered with banana or palm leaves, theirs are covered with potato sacks and dirt allowing the agaves to breathe. The cooked agaves are crushed via stone wheel powered by a mule, known as a tahona.  The juice is fermented in wooden fermenters via the use of native yeasts. They use 5 direct fired small Alembic copper pot stills to distill. The purpose of distilling in small batches Javier says, “it’s like making beans, the smaller the batch the more flavorful the beans taste”.  Everything is hand bottled and hand labeled. See the gallery at the end of this post for a look at their process.

Los Javis Mezcal

These mezcals they are refined and elegant. While some maybe more intense than others, they have a similar texture. They are rounded and balanced. Smoke is not the dominate characteristic. Not once do I make mention of the smoke, it is of a secondary importance to me when tasting mezcal. More important is how each agave species shows a unique character and flavor. They have been produced by a gentle hand and are more interested in showcasing the agave’s uniqueness and not reliant on the note of smoke you may find in other mezcals.

Intensity: A scale from light to high, describing how prevalent and vibrant the aroma is
Aroma: The compounds we smell through the nose and the mezcal’s bouquet
Taste: The flavors on the palate
Texture: The body and mouth-feel
Tongue map: This can relate to astringency or acidity, but it is my indication of where the mezcal sits on the tongue
Finish: A scale from short to long, of how long the spirit’s flavors lasts on the palate
Sense of place: Close your eyes, taste the spirit, focus on a place in the world where it takes you emotionally

Arroqueño 2017

Batch Arro-002  46.75%
(Americana var. Oaxacensis)  Genetic mother of Espadin
Intensity: Medium
Aroma: Cola, sarsaparilla, Clay, Adobe, tree fruit, sweet apple, melon, dusty
Taste: Sweet, cola, candle wax, white flowers, agave honey, gentle
Texture: Simple, refined, gentle
Tongue map: Tip and front sides of tongue
Finish: Medium
Sense of Place:  Think cotton candy at the fair

Salmiana 2017

Batch SA-001 47.93%
Salmiana “Green Giant”
15-25 yrs old agave typically used for pulque
Intensity: High
Aroma: Herbal, candle wax, green, sap, tropical, clay, pear, yellow apple
Taste: Ripe tree fruit, herbs, piney, eucalyptus, rosemary, mouthwatering acidity
Texture: Intense, wild, untamed,
Tongue Map: Tip of tongue & mid palate
Finish: Medium plus
Sense of Place: Think pastures at the  edge of a forest

Mexicano 2018

Batch MX -001  47.28%
Agave Rhodacantha
Intenstity: Medium
Aroma: Sweet, spicy, pepper, chile, orange peel, bruised apple, caraway, earthy
Taste: Citrus pith, earthy, mixture of sweetness and spice, umami
Texture:  Smooth, silky, rich
Tongue Map: Mid palate focused
Finish: Long & dry
Sense of Place: Think a market in Thailand

Jabali 2016

Batch JB-004  47.8%
A. Convallis
Intensity: Medium
Aroma: Herbal, anise, green leaves, coconut meat, fig, green banana
Taste:  Floral, violets, lavender, tannins
Texture:  Silky, round, smooth, full bodied
Tongue Map:  Tip of tongue and mid palate
Finish:  Med-plus finish
Sense of Place:  Think French Alps

Cuishe 2017

Batch K-003 47.07%
Intensity: Med-minus
Aroma: Perfumed spice, sweet agave, baked peach, eucalyptus, chamomile
Taste: Spicy, mushroom, drying, earthy
Texture: Elegant, light bodied & racy
Tongue map:  Back palate driven
Finish:  Long finish
Sense of Place: Think warm sunny day on tropical coastline

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Best Spirits from the CRG Bar – Blind Tasted

Posted on April 4, 2018

Best from the bar

Cohn Restaurant Group has 22 restaurants with liquor licenses, it is my job to set up a beverage program which fits each of the individual concepts. This day in age there are so many new spirits bombarding the market. Each one comes with a unique story, production method and taste. But for most, the label and package is the most important element. This is true of most spirits in the market whether they are new or old. Branding takes time and if it sticks, can result in high sales.  The task of figuring out which spirit and which brand is best for each concept can be pretty daunting. So I decided to have the staff decide.

The secret to our success, is education. I try to keep the bar and service staff up to date and trained on the products we carry. For the past 6 weeks I hosted the CRG Spirit Academy. Each week I took one spirit, discussed the history and production methods. I then had brand ambassadors talk about the brands we serve. The staff asked questions and received more details on the individual products. We finished class by blind tasting the spirits in their perspective categories. The servers and bartenders rate each brand on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best. I then ask them to raise their hands for the spirits that received a 4 or 5. The spirit with the most votes in that category won the blind tasting and a spot on our bars.

I do it this way because labels and packages have so much control over how we expect the spirit to taste. By removing the label and package we are left with the innate virtue of the spirit.  It no longer has an extra leg to stand on and is at its purist most naked form.  The results were surprising. The spirit business is filled with big money, lots of advertising and government lobbying.  In order for my restaurants to meet guest expectations, we need to have some brand awareness, but we should also find the best brands. The brands may not do well in the blind tasting, it does not mean that they will be taken off, it just gives the staff an alternative brand to sell.

Here is the list of the brands in order of the best brand per category. See Vodka Here.


#1 Uncle Vals Botanical

#2 Hendrix

#3 Beefeaters

#4 Tanqueray

#5 Bombay Sapphire

#6 Benhams

#7 City Gin by Greenbar

#8 SipSmith

#9 Bols Genevere

#10 Old Grove


I personally liked the Uncle Vals and the SipSmith. It seems as though the staff liked the columns still gins which produce a cleaner crisp juniper forward flavor. Where as the pot still gins have a bit of funk to them, which I really enjoy.


#1 Crusoe by Greenbar

#2 Bacardi Oakheart

#3 Malahat

#4 Three Sheets

#5 Captain Morgan

RUM- Aged

#1 Diplomatico – Venezuela

#2 Havannah Club – Puerto Rico

#3 Zaya – Trinidad & Tobago

#4 Appleton – Jamaica

#5 Flor de Cana – Nicaragua


We tasted white rums on there own to compare molasses base vs agricole, barrel aged and high proof. I really wanted to blind taste the rums which were aged and spiced.  These give us a better idea of what the distillers are doing as far as ingredients. I agreed with the staff and felt that the Diplomatico was the most complex and delicious of the rums.


#1  Patron

#2 El Tesoro

#3 Don Julio

#4 Milagro

#5 Fortalezza

#6 Casa Noble

#7 Olmeca Alto

My Comments:

During this class we tasted Blanco, Repo, Anejo, Extra Anejo, Espadin Mezcal, Reposado Mezcal and Barril Mezcal. Since there was so much tasted before the blind tasting began, I thought to limit the Tequila to some of the more popular brands in the restaurants. Personally, El Tesoro was my favorite. It had bitterness, balance and complexity whereas the Don Julio and Patron tasted sweet and glycerol to me. To each his own.


#1 Michter’s American Whiskey

#2 Highwest Double Rye

#3 James Pepper 1776 100 proof

#4 Templeton Rye

#5 Highwest Prairie Bourbon

#6 Bulliet Bourbon

#7 Woodford Reserve Bourbon

#8 Knob Creek Single Barrel 120 proof

#9 Russell’s Reserve 10 yr Bourbon

#10 Slow Hand 6 woods Whiskey

#11 Jim Beam Bonded Bourbon

#12 Wild Turkey Rye 101 proof

#13 Jack Daniels & Basil Hayden

#14 Old Overholt Rye

My Comments:

15 whiskies all at once is a lot of whisky! We looked to see which were balanced with grain and oak aromas, rated their intensity levels, looked for full mouth coating and long finish. I personally really liked the James Pepper 1776. It is crazy to see how much branding is done with whiskey and how little it has to do with quality.

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Vodka Blind Tasting, Guess Which Won?

Posted on February 14, 2018

Vodka: CRG Spirit Academy

Over the next six weeks I am hosting spirit training for the employees at the Cohn  Restaurant Group, the CRG SPIRIT ACADEMY.  I love teaching, because each time I learn something new.  This past week we focused on Vodka. I discussed the difference between fermentation and distillation, how distillation began and why. And then gave a brief history of Vodka in Russia and it’s eventual success in the USA. After they sat through 45 minutes of me blabbing, some of our Vodka suppliers stood up and gave a 3 minute talk on their brand and what makes it so unique. Following their presentation we tasted 11 vodkas blind. The purpose to learn to use their own judgement on determining which vodka was best rather than seeing a label and having it influence their decision.

To condition their palates, I had them take a quick taste of rectified spirit, Everclear. This was  to show what vodka is like before it gets watered down. They then smelled the heads from the still of a local vodka. Smelling the heads they were able to pick out the methanol, ethyl acetate and ethyl lactate and all the undesirable aromas one might find in cheap vodka.  We then tasted our well Vodka, Svedka to give them an idea of why we use it and why it is one of the best values out there. Then the blind tasting began.  They were asked to rate each vodka on a scale from 1 to 5 with 5 being the best.  While tasting we were looking for the following criteria:

  • Aromas:
    • fruit / herbal / floral
    • medicinal / ethanol
  • Taste:
    • Clean / Dirty
    • Dry / Slightly Sweet
    • Smooth / Aggressive
    • Gentle / Powerful
    • Oily / Grainy / Soapy
    • Rich / Thin
    • Soft / Sharp / Burning
  • Finish:
    • short / medium / long
    • tip of tongue / mid palate / back palate

The best vodkas should have aromas of fruit, herbs or flowers or none at all, with low ethanol.  They should taste clean, dry (no glycerin), smooth, gentle, rich but not viscous, soft and round hitting all parts of the tongue with a long clean finish.

We tasted Tito’s, Ketel One, Absolut, Grey Goose, Hangar One, Belvedere, Chopin, Ciroc, Fugu, Tru and Absolut Elyx. All different price ranges. Some are made of grains, wheat, grape, potato, rye, corn and even a little pomegranate.  After tasting through each vodka and before revealing the names, I called out the number of each vodka in the order we tasted.  If they gave it a score of 4 or 5 they were asked to raise their hand. I tallied the numbers of all the vodkas scoring a 4 or 5, the results were pretty interesting.

The results out of 11 Vodkas tasted by 50 people:

Hangar One had 25 votes

Absolut 12  votes

Belvedere 11 votes

Ciroc 9 votes

Tru & Chopin 7 votes

Grey Goose 5 votes

Ketel One, Fugu and Absolut Elyx tied with 3 votes

Tito’s 2 votes

At least they all received a score of 4 or 5 from someone. 



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CRG Bartender Battle 2015

Posted on February 16, 2015

Bartender battle

Everyone wants to see a good battle.  The Romans had their Gladiators, America and the USSR had the Cold War and Coke and Pepsi had the Pepsi Challenge.  To keep with the human spirit, I arranged a bartender battle between 18 bartenders from our many restaurants at the Cohn Restaurant Group.

The 2015 CRG Bartender Battle was held at OB Warehouse on February 9th.  Pernod Ricard sponsored the blood bath.  I invited several non-partisan judges from San Francisco and Los Angeles to act as our guest referees.  Nikki Louie brand ambassador for Avion Tequila, Ria Soler brand ambassador for Absolut Vodka,  Daniel Warrilow mixologist for Olmeca Altos Tequila and Juan Carlos Calderon from Pernod Ricard/Southern Wines & Spirits sat at the throne and tasted 33 concoctions.  In attendance we had about 90 employees from our different restaurants supporting their favorite bartenders.  There were a total of 18 bartenders competing in three different competitions.

Bartender Battle #1

Competitors had to make the best Absolut Vodka cocktail.  The bartenders had weeks to prepare and two minutes to make the cocktail.  There was a catch. They had to get creative, because they could not use the most expensive ingredients.  Their cocktail had to come under a 14% pour cost. For those of you not familiar with pour cost, it is the cost of ingredients divided by the price of the cocktail.  It is a challenge in any bar to make deliciously tasting drinks and stay mindful of pour cost.

Bartender Battle #2

Bartenders had 5 minutes to create a cocktail using Olmeca Altos Tequila and at least three ingredients from a secret basket of ingredients.  Seems easy?  Not so much.  5 minutes is not a lot of time when the ingredients are laid out a minute before.  Working in a foreign well is already a challenge, but not knowing the ingredients and the limited time makes this challenge very difficult.  I think of it on the same level as a Top Chef quick fire challenge.

Bartender Battle #3

The last battle was the Secret Style competition.  The bartenders had full range of the bar as long as they used one spirit from Pernod Ricard.  The bartenders were given the style and had 5 minutes to create a cocktail in that style. We could have picked spirit forward cocktails, sour cocktails, spritzers, martinis etc… We settled on beer cocktails.

I can go on and give you the play-by-play with results, but that would not be fun. Instead watch the video!


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History of Latin Cocktails Tasting Event

Posted on July 25, 2014

Sea180 Latin Cocktails

Everyone knows me as the wine guy.  After all the blog says Maurice’s Wine Cru.  Naturally you would expect me to blog about wine.  However, in my job I oversee the beverage programs for the Cohn Restaurant Group.  Spirits and beers are part of my daily routine.  Although I spend a lot of time chatting about wine, I spend the majority of my day working with spirits.  In fact today & tomorrow I am going to our newest restaurant OB Warehouse and training the new staff on the history of beer and spirits.  Before I really got into wine, I was bartending.  I was working in a Nuevo Latino restaurant in San Francisco, back when it was really “Nuevo”, and making Latin cocktails.  This was just prior to the Mojito craze. Tequila has always been my spirit of choice, thus working there was very rewarding.  I soon left and began my journey into wine, but never once forgetting about my favorite spirit, Tequila.

Fast forward a decade and a half; when Sea180 opened in Imperial Beach, we knew that a lot of our guests were of a Latin American descent and many lived 5 minutes away, south of the border.  The GM, Sheehan McCoy, created a bar menu with a Latin flair complimenting the “Baja Med” cuisine.  Infused rum and tequila soon became a big part of the cocktail program.  Sheehan was very creative in his infusions and created Infusion Thursdays where he offered discounts on infused cocktails such as banana brulee rum.  These cocktails are derived from the classic Latin cocktails such as the Margarita, the Mojito and Daiquiri.  Behind each cocktail comes years and years of evolution.  The history of spirits is a murky one as distillation occurred in several parts of the world about the same time.  However, spirits such as Tequila, Pisco, Rum and Cachaca are deeply ingrained in the history and culture of the Latin American nations of the Caribbean, Central and South America.

The Mojito took America by storm in the 1990’s-2000’s.  Little do people know is that is was first created by sailors to cure dysentery.  The Margarita has a slew of stories around its creation.  Who knows which is true, but it’s fun to hear them all.  The Caipirinha is a Brazilian cocktail that made a comeback in recent years.  Cachaca is a Brazilian rum which we see little of in the States, however, Margarita lovers I have a new drink for you.  The battle over the best Pisco Sour is still being debated between the Chileans and Peruvians.  Both use grape spirit for this classic cocktail and the variations are ever so slight.  Maybe Chile makes better Pisco, but the Peruvians make a better Pisco Sour.  And Finally, we will talk about the Daiquiri.  This cocktail has probably evolved the most.  We will learn about the different styles and how Ernest Hemingway changed the cocktail forever.

On August 2nd, Sea 180 Coastal Tavern will be holding an event in which we will teach the history of these Latin cocktails and spirits.  After the 30-45 min class, guests will head to the roof top deck and get to take part in creating their own Margarita, Pisco Sour or preferred Latin cocktail.  Hors d’oeuvre will be provided by Chef Ken Irvine from the Sea 180 Coastal Tavern kitchen.


To buy tickets to the History of Latin American Cocktails click this link:

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