Wednesday, February 7, 2024

White Bear Meadery Sima

My quest to find non-alcoholic things these days is hitting a fever pitch. I want to try all the non-alcoholic things (except you kombucha). Literally all of them. But one thing I never thought I'd ever see was non-alcoholic mead. I mean, non-alcoholic mead is just honey water, right? At least that's what I thought until I stumbled across a post on Instagram about White Bear Meadery and their, surprise surprise, N/A mead called Sima. Based on a Finnish drink, this stuff is a spiced, citrused mead with NO ALCOHOL. I was sold theoretically but I had to be sold physically too, so I hurried on over to their website to try and get some cans. I put in an order for two cans, paid them, and waited for delivery. What I received was 26 cans (a 24 pack and my two cans). Whoops.

There was, naturally, an error in shipping and, after telling them that I'd pay for the excess that got mis-shipped to the wrong address, they told me just to keep them. It was around this time that I started noticing some...inconsistencies with the cans. Some were full to the point of bulging, some were underfilled. It wasn't until I was woken up by a loud pop at night that the trouble began. I went into the kitchen the next morning to see that a can of the Sima had failed at the top can seam line and...blown open. Guess they were overpressured for a reason. Now, I'm not saying this to slander White Bear Meadery. Not at all. It's just a precautionary tale, really. You see, here's what I figured. You have a sugar laden, unfermented mead being put into cans, potentially on the same line as normal mead. This means cross-contamination of yeast (from the fermented mead) into the non-fermented cans, causing them to, in essence, ferment in the can. Hence the loud pops and the cans opening at the seams; the overpressure of fermentation caused them to pop. Much like over-dosed bottles of beer, these things happen. I just found it interesting that it could still happen when the thing ISN'T EVEN FERMENTED.

But enough of the diatribe about neat science-y things. How exactly WAS the stuff? Well, let's take a look at a few photos first and then dive into the tasting notes.


Nose: nose is all sweetness and candy. Massive lashings of fresh honey and citrus with a clove undertone that belies some of what's to come. It's rich and heady with no hint of alcohol whatsoever to balance what could be a very sweet drink. Some vanilla comes through too, though I'm not sure what it's from.

Taste: A blast of honey, fresh and wild, coats the tongue. As this fades, the spice mix comes in, clove and ginger in turns. The carbonation is gentle and provides a good balance to the sweetness. For something that doesn't have the hallmarks of a classic mead to balance it out...the balance on this is quite nice. It's not too honey heavy, not too citrus focused, and not too browbeating with the herb mix.

Overall, a VERY refreshing quaff with no frills about it; it's not trying to be a mead you cellar as I don't think it'd be good cellared as the brightness of it will fade very quickly. Most times I find myself not reaching for my Glencairn to taste it as it's fine as it is (and loses nothing) from just drinking it straight from the can. You get the unctuous honey qualities that flit around with lemon and lime (peels and maybe juice) that bless it with citrus kick that then folds into a wonderfully Christmas-y bouquet of clove, maybe a little nutmeg, and some good ginger to boot. I doubted the semi-dry nomenclature at first but I'll be damned if it truly does drink semi-dry, at least for a mead. A fantastic drink...if you can deal with the problems I dealt with with aplomb and grace. These things are like hand grenades of deliciousness: always ready to pop at a moment's notice.

ADDENDUM: Naturally, the people at White Bear Meadery were not happy with my comments and I can see why. Allow me to explain and rewrite some of this.

When I do tasting notes, I write them into Blogger first, then write an ending that I intend to replace later. This time I didn't do it and I regret that. Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age, maybe I'm just more empathetic, I dunno. But I will amend this with this statement. This stuff is good, VERY good. I've talked with them about the problems and let them know months ago so this shouldn't be a problem again. I highly recommend you TRY their mead because if it's as good as the Sima is, then you're in for a treat. I didn't mean this post to be as slanderous as it came out to be and I apologize for my lack of editing and judgement. I really need to hire an editor but, for the time being, it's only me editing these things and when I get into the nitty gritty of things I'm passionate about, it can come off misconstrued. I will endeavor to be better. Seriously, go buy some Sima. It's a great mead despite what happened.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Needs and Wants

In July of 1943, a man published a paper.

July 1943 saw the burgeoning action in both Italy and on the Soviet front. Operation Husky, the American invasion of Sicily, began on the 9th/10th of July with the airdrop of the American 505th Airborne Division and the British 1st Airborne Division's 1st Airlanding Brigade, as well as beach landings of the U.S. 1st and 3rd Infantry Divisions. The German offensive in the Battle of Kursk began on the 5th with nine infantry divisions and one of the 9th Army beginning their attack at 5:30am.

The man was ineligible for service. By the beginning salvos of the United States' involvement in World War II in 1941, he was already a 33 year old man and a father of two children. Unable to fight on the front lines, he spent the majority of the war doing what he had done for sixteen years: academic research. Born from a turbulent childhood of social ostracization (he was a Jewish boy in a non-Jewish neighborhood) as well as child abuse (verbal and physical abuse from both his mother and father), he sought to quantify and catalog the human psychology that he saw in his peers and parents. But instead of focusing on aspects that his predecessors had...he chose a different path. While Freud, and really al psychology up until that point, had focused on the "sick", the man decided that in order to fundamentally understand psychology, the study of success rather than failure was more pertinent. He began studying the major successes of the time: Albert Einstein, Ruth Benedict, and Max Wertheimer were the halcyon examples of his theory. His work birthed a new movement of psychology: humanistic psychology. And, in July of 1943, the man published a paper in the Psychological Review that became a cornerstone in modern psychology.

The man's name was Abraham Harold Maslow and the paper was titled "A Theory of Human Motivation".

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs was born.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is classically represented as a pyramid. Much like the food pyramid, the lower on the graphic the need, the more fundamental it is. But unlike the food pyramid, ingredients from each group can't be chosen to make a meal. Like a building, the foundation must be laid first before the attic can be built. So once you've had your fill of the bottom group, you can move up to the higher group. This was the crux of Maslow's theory: the needs at the lowest group were paramount above the higher groups and, if not met, would not allow psychological progression. But what ARE in these groups? Well...this graph should explain things:


Via Wikimedia

Let's go through them one by one, shall we? Delve a little deeper into these categories.

Physiological: Maslow, in his paper A Theory of Human Motivation, goes on to describe that "homeostasis" and "appetites" make up this level. His description of homeostasis, derived from a paper by Cannon(1) is a purely physical one; one of a regulated blood stream with appropriate water, salt, sugar, protein, fat, calcium, and oxygen content as well as constant acid/base and temperature levels. It accounts for conservation of mass, ingrained biological imperatives, and (above all) constant, unchanging values for the measurable quantities of the body and all its facets. The drive for these basic needs is incredibly strong and, thusly, is the bottom of the pyramid. Maslow goes on to say thus:

"If all the needs are unsatisfied, and the organism is then dominated by the physiological needs, all other needs may become simply non-existent or be pushed into the background. It is then fair to characterize the whole organism by saying simply that it is hungry, for consciousness is almost completely preempted by hunger."

The physiological needs are the most driving needs, the most critical to a human's survival. Maslow further says:

"Capacities that are not useful for this purpose lie dormant, or are pushed to the background. The urge to write poetry, the desire to acquire an automobile, the interest in American history, the desire for a new pair of shoes are, in the extreme case, forgotten or become of secondary importance. For the man who is extremely and dangerously hungry, no other interests exist but food. he dreams food, he remembers food, he thinks about food, he emotes only about food, he perceives only food and wants only food."

Furthermore, it also adjusts a human's outlook on life and the days to come as well:

"Another peculiar characteristic of the human organism when it is dominated by a certain need is that the whole philosophy of the future tends also to change. For our chronically and extremely hungry man, Utopia can be defined very simply as a place where there is plenty of food. He tends to think that, if only he is guaranteed food for the rest of his life, he will be perfectly happy and will never want anything else. Life itself tends to be defined in terms of eating. Anything else will be defined as unimportant. Freedom, love, community feeling, respect, philosophy, may all be waved aside as fripperies which are useless, since they fail to fill the stomach. Such a man may fairly be said to live by bread alone."

The fervor and energy put into maintaining the physiological needs of a human are the strongest needs and also the most overruling. Even if one has maintained a status quo on a higher level of wants and needs, according to Maslow, emergencies and disasters that disrupt the physiological homeostasis will be rectified before everything else.

Safety: Safety, according to Maslow, is best observed by parlaying situations and occurrences as they apply to a child. He goes on to say:

"One reason for the clearer appearance of the threat or danger reaction in infants, is that they do not inhibit this reaction at all, whereas adults in our society have been taught to inhibit it at all costs. Thus even when adults do feel their safety to be threatened we may not be able to see this on the surface."

Safety is all about protection and avoidance of harm. Maslow speaks of many things, such as parental security, social security (but not on the level of belonging, just that society is stable and not in friction), and other things...including illness. He writes:

"In infants we can also see a much more direct reaction to bodily illnesses of various kinds. Sometimes these illnesses some to be immediately and per se threatening and seem to make the child feel unsafe. For instance, vomiting, colic or other sharp pains, seem to make the child look at the whole world in a different way. At such a moment of pain, it may be postulated that, for the child, the appearance of the whole world suddenly changes from sunniness to darkness, so to speak, and becomes a place in which anything at all might happen, in which previously stable things have suddenly become unstable."

He also talks at length about the concept of the unfamiliar and the strange being part of safety and it's avoidance: 

"Confronting the average child with new, unfamiliar, strange, unmanageable stimuli or situations will to frequently elicit the danger or terror reaction, as for example, getting lost or even being separated from parents for a short time, being confronted with new faces, new situations or new tasks, the sight of strange, unfamiliar or uncomfortable objects, illness, or death."

Safety is the second most important section on the pyramid and humans will go to great lengths to avoid, rectify, or escape to safe and stable situations.

Love/Belonging: Love is the topic that Maslow spends the least time on but it reflects mainly back on not just sexual desire but also acceptance and tolerance of a group, whether it be family sized (and thus a parental/relationship setting) but also social belonging as well (fitting in to social groups).

Esteem: Maslow's interpretation of esteem is two-fold, covering two facets of a human's need for recognition and appropriate reactions to said esteem: 

"All people in our society...have a need or desire for a stable, firmly based...high evaluation of themselves, for self-respect, or self-esteem and for the esteem of others. By firmly based self-esteem, we mean that which is soundly based upon real capacity, achievement, and respect from others. These needs may be classified into two subsidiary sets. These are, first, the desire for strength for achivement, for adequacy, for confidence in the face of the world, and for indepenence and freedom. Secondly, we have what we may call the desire for reputation or prestige...recognition, attention, importance, or appreciation."

Basically, we want people to like us and for us to like ourselves. A deadly simple section but one that is fundamental to our continued survival psychologically.

Self-actualization: Self-actuation is the highest and, thus, least critical need of the human. Maslow has this to say about it:

"This term, first coined by Kurt Goldstein, is being used in this paper in a much more specific and limited fashion. It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially."

The best way to describe this is to fully embrace, and be allowed to embrace, what one thinks is one's "calling" in life:

"The specific form that these needs will take will of course vary greatly from person to person. In one individual it may take the form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions. It is not necessarily a creative urge although in people who have any capacities it will take this form."

Thus, self-actualization is becoming the "you" you want to become.

Why Did I Say All Of This

To put this in perspective, I started writing this post in 2018. It's taken me almost five YEARS to write this post. Why? Because it's painful but it's something that I have to do. The past decade has seen me sliding down Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs like I'm on a goddamn toboggan. When I first started this website, I was much younger, full of promise, and not as medically compromised as I am now. These days? Boy I am rough. I'm hovering at, on the best of days, at the safety level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. And that's on a GOOD day. As Bernie Mac once said "I ain't good no more. I used to be good...but I ain't no more." Granted he was talking about something different entirely (you can watch the Kings of Comedy tour to find out more) but what he said still resonates. I'm not the young man I once was. To start off...

I can't drink.

     I've been sober for nearly...a decade now? I have sips every few once and awhile and I can do sip and spit but my days of hard drinking are over. Why? Well, part of it is that my body just can't tolerate alcohol like it used to and the other, more important part, is that I'm on trans-dermal fentanyl for pain now. That's how bad life has slid. So I can't drink these days so what am I to do? This was a website specifically dedicated to the hedonistic, bon-vivant pleasures of drinking and I can barely sip and spit without having to chug water and lie down for a few hours because it's interacting with the cornucopia of drugs I'm on that are keeping me alive. I'm fortunate in that I can still smoke cigars (although that may have to stop too if the surgery I'm having in less than a week has anything to say about that) and I can still do other bar related stuff but the no-drinking has taken a toll on me mentally because I've dedicated so much of my life to pursuing it. So what is a man to do with a website dedicated to drinking when he himself can't drink?


    That's all I can do, really. I need something to write about because, frankly, it's been a nightmare for me NOT writing on the website. Another reason the website has gone silent is because I've been applying for disability and the disability hearing board did not take kindly to me writing, citing that it meant that I was medically well enough to hold a job like a writing job in 2023 is steady enough and well paying enough to live off of which was a laugh unto itself. So I've had to remain silent, despite desperately wanting to write, so it's given me time to think of ways to branch off of the topic nearest and dearest to my own heart while still giving me something to write about that won't kill me. Now that I've received disability and they won't be penalizing me for writing, I've got some ideas I've bandied about over the past decade to incorporate into the blog:


Bar Snacks - I've always been fascinated with tinned meat and fish of all sorts, and MREs. The MREs don't really fit but I'm willing to bend the rules a little because, well, it's my website and I do this to have fun. I'd basically be reviewing bar snacks of all kinds like blind robins (if I can still get them), canned/smoked fish and shellfish, canned meats, and other kinds of food items that would come on a pegboard or tucked in a jar on the bar back of even the dive-iest of bars. I haven't fully worked the kinks out on it yet but I do have a vast selection of canned fish I've been collecting to review so I might just start with that and see where things go.

Cigars/Pipes - You know I've always been a cigar and ppipe fan but lately I haven't been smoking too much because being alone with my thoughts is never a good idea when you have as much to worry about as I do. I spend every second of time worrying and if I don't drown it out with music, movies, video games, etc., it consumes me. So intentionally stepping away from those distractions to smoke and be in the still and quiet of my mind has not proven to be a wise idea. Recent testing HAS indicated that I may be able to smoke some short cigars and get some reviews in that way and perhaps a small-ish pipe can be purchased (like my old Grabow Lark) to facilitate pipe tobacco reviews. I dunno, it's something I'll workshop. That said, I'm very much out of the cigar/pipe tobacco game so I'd have to reintegrate myself into that again somehow (probably by annoying the hell out of Charlie Minato over at Halfwheel).

Tea/Coffee - In my departure, I've purchased (at a rock bottom price, mind you) a Nespresso machine so I've been into that because, well, when haven't I been into things that give you energy. I've been having fun with it but I've really only used the Nespresso branded pods for coffee. I know a lot of roasters actually offer Original Line capsules of their coffee (which I have) so maybe I'll get into coffee some. I'm still into tea but barely drink it even though I'm supposed to submit reviews for a program I'm in. Part of me missing having the space to do gong fu sessions so I guess that means I haven't been drinking as much tea as usual. I'll probably get back into it once I do some restructuring of my office which means rearranging my room to finally have my hot water kettle in here along with my Nespresso. I think that'll help.

N/A Beer/Spirits - Luckily, I've kinda fallen into this one, if you've seen my Instagram at all (which is where I'm the most active these days). The N/A scene has veritably exploded and for that I have great joy and pride for the brewers that do offer N/A offerings. I will be doing formal reviews of them, I just need to figure out the structure and glassware situation of that. I may end up relegating that solely to Instagram as it gives my Instagram something special but knowing me I'll end up wanting to get too verbose and end up writing full posts. My only problem, really, is my camera situation. My T3i Rebel is actually WORSE than my phone camera, I think, so I'll either need to upgrade my equipment at some point or just use my phone to take the vast majority of my photography which, frankly, feels kinda cheap but oh well. At least I'll be writing, right?

Actual Booze - Sip and spit only, and that's only when I'm having good days. I'd love to do it more but my body and meds just won't cooperate so it'll be hit and miss. I'm going to be trying something out with a friend on Twitch that may yield something but all I can say is that actual spirit tastings will be few and far between. Also, I need to buy a spittoon. Gross.

Marijuana - I don't quite know how I feel about this yet. Stay tuned. I'm working through my feelings on this one.

So that's where things lie as of now. I've recently received my last disability payment so I should be covered to run the website, comfortably (not on a razor thin margin) now so that's good. What I'm able to write, if I'm able to write, all depends on where I am on that Hierarchy of Needs. Some days are low, some days are high. Some weeks are low, some weeks are high. All I can say is that I'll write when I can write and try to provide you with the best content I can. I can't promise you it'll be like the good ol' days but, then again, it never can be, can it? The "good ol' days" will always be our memories tinted by rose-colored nostalgia and all we can hope to achieve is to have "good new days" in the future. Which I'd very much like to do...

...this Hierarchy be damned.

- Bacchus


 Maslow, A.W. A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, vol. (50) (July 1943), pp 370 -
    396. As printed by Martino Publishing, Mansfield, CT, 2013.
1. Cannon, W. B. Wisdom of the body. New York: Norton, 1932.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Cannastock (Spring, 2023)

     Hi, yes, hello. I'm sure you're wondering a few things. Maybe along the lines of like:

  1. Where did you go?
  2. Where have you been?
  3. Are you alright?
  4. Are you Cotton Eye Joe?

    All of these are pretty fair questions (except the Cotton-Eye Joe one, that one's pretty out of left field but I'll let it slide). Trust me, I'll fill you in on what's been going on in an upcoming post. It's a doozy, so I figured I'd do something light ahead of time. Y'know, cut my teeth again on writing on this website, show you how things are changing/shift, etc. etc. I'm sure that this is also coming out of left field, me covering a cannabis event but, truth be told, my journalistic curiosity never stops and this is just one of the many things I've been tentatively feeling out to see if it's a good way to go for me. I'm not all-in on the whole cannabis thing, I'm just canna-curious, I guess is the best way to put it. Doing some marijuana mulling. I know that when I mentioned how...out of place this event coverage would be to one of my friends, they kinda laughed and said a few things. They said that nothing, and they repeat nothing, can stop my curiosity once it's piqued (true) and also that I could write this like a war correspondent. I know that sounds weird but it makes sense; I'm not in the trenches smoking marijuana all day, I'm just reporting on those that do, the culture behind it, and the burgeoning market that is New York's legal marijuana market. And, hey, you know me. If it's a legal intoxicant...I'm curious about it. So, with all of that nitty gritty out of the way, let me lay out how I arrived at this situation.
    I first heard about CannaStock on social media and I read up on it the best I could to see just what exactly it was about. It seemed to be like it was a show on the cusp of greatness. From what I could gather, it was a show where things were finally legal-legal in NY, and dispensaries were opening up. Growers were resplendent with product with nowhere for it to go (due to significant and protracted litigation by some dumb guy in Michigan). And it seemed like an event that was opening up for the first time (even though it had taken place before) with legal, easily accessible marijuana in mind. So, being the curious cat that I am, I decided to email them to see if I could get press tickets. Shout-out to Assa the marketing director for blessing me with two tickets. Yes, I said two tickets. Yes, I went with my mom. Listen, things have changed a lot and I don't wanna hear it, okay? Besides, it meant a lot to her and I kinda did it for Mother's Day so, y'know, two birds, one stone. Now, I wasn't allowed to bring a camera in and, frankly, even if I was I wouldn't want to take photos of people in this environment. I treated this like a kind of "secret's safe with me" kind of event. I didn't interview anyone high, I didn't take photos or recordings of anyone or anything, and I didn't get any booth photos. Part of this was by design of the event (they didn't want it) and part of it was my journalistic integrity (people deserve to have their shit be kept under wraps unless they don't want it). Now, let's dive in to what I saw, what piqued my interest, and what...didn't. Here we go.


    There were a LOT of growers at the event. Like...a lot. Which was weird because a lot of them were there but couldn't do anything with their product. A lot of displays of lower, cartridges, edibles, etc...but no sales due to legal limitations, which was sad. Some growers were skirting around the laws with legal loopholes (which I am all for because technically correct is the best kind of correct) so that was interesting to see. An example was that some vendors, like Flower Kingdom, would sell at hat for $50 and it came with free marijuana. I, personally, didn't partake of said sales (I'm just dippin' in toes here) but there were a lot of people that were taking full advantage of it. There were a lot of growers, as said, but I think these were my two favorites:

Harney Brothers Cannabis: Do you know the sound I made when I heard about this. I made a sound of excitement that I'm pretty sure only dogs could hear. I've been a LONG, LONG time fan of Harney. Hell, one of the first real pieces of journalism I did was the Harney and Sons Factory Tour back in January of 2010. This business was done by Mike and Paul (I've worked with Mike in the past, as well) and, so far, has products in at least a few dispensaries in NY. I am exceedingly proud of them for diversifying to the extent that they have and I really hope this venture does well for them. If I decide to get into marijuana, this might be something I'll have to try and tour (or at least smoke).

A Walk In The Pines: I was super impressed by these guys. They didn't have a whole lot of strains in stock but what they did have seemed like quality (I guess, I dunno, I'm very new to this). I talked with Mike Dulen, CEO for a bit and he was quite the affable chap to talk with. They're based in the Finger Lakes (which I am a fan of) and seemed like, while small and maybe just burgeoning, they could be up for great things. I'll be keeping an eye on them.

High Falls Canna: These guys were going absolutely bonkers and for good reason: they were giving away free stuff. And you know what stuff they were giving away. If you followed them on Instagram, you got a free something smoke-able from them of some type, judging by how many people were walking away with tubes of stuff. I signed up for their Instagram but opted not to get a free...I dunno, preroll maybe? I was trying to stay on the periphery and not actively get involved with all that jazz tobacco. I had a business to run and a media job to do so I was on my best behavior. Still though, nice folks and props to them for giving away that much marijuana.


    There we a lot of shops at the show, mostly focused on a lot of the minute details of growing, or straight up dispensaries themselves. I think the most two prominent dispensaries were both Etain and Curaleaf. Etain is a fully women owned dispensary not that far from me that's been doing gangbusters since it opened in 2015 with a lot of financial backing from a variety of groups (investment or not I'm not sure). They're pretty big and pretty widely spread across the state. It was nice to see them there, offering some serious deals for medical marijuana customers and also helping people link up with doctors that could help them start their journey to getting a medical marijuana card. I really liked that, even if the card isn't for me, and I think it was a good service done for the community. Curaleaf was there in full force, whether you liked that or not (there is some pushback for large marijuana "conglomerates" in the medical/recreational space) so whether you like them or are against them, they're here to stay. As someone that was looking into getting a medical marijuana card for a long time but decided against it, it's been interesting to see the burgeoning of the breadth of products available to medical marijuana patients. For a long time, you got tinctures and maybe vapes and that was it, you just had to deal with it. But now, it's really expanded into flower, edibles, tinctures, vapes, concentrates, what-have-you. The passing of recreational has been good for the medical marijuana field as well, which has been heartwarming to see. A rising tide rises all ships, so to speak, and it's made a large difference in things for a lot of people. Yay, compassion!


    As with any large gathering of those of the weed inclined, there's gonna be vendors. There were quite a few vendors there, ranging from glass and stickers, to law offices specializing in conforming to state law and other sticky (heh, marijuana pun) legal situations that could arise to places that specialized in seeds and plants, and even places that help you market your marijuana (or any marijuana adjacent) brand. There was a gamut of stuff for pretty much everyone there, regardless of what you needed, including me, the guy that's barely ever smoked weed in his life. My stellar find of the day was Hudson Valley Exotics, a store located near me that deals HEAVILY in...wait for it...

...exotic soda.

    Yeah, I know, I know. Leave it to the beverage guy to find the one booth in a marijuana centered event with the rare soda. IT'S A PROBLEM, OKAY. But seriously, the guys (Alex et. al.) were really cool and were doing some GANGBUSTERS sales while I was there. If you didn't see it, I managed to pick up a bottle of Blueberry Cola and went absolutely ham on it on Instagram. Here, I'll link it here:


Anyway, the dudes were really nice and, like me, couldn't drink anymore but still wanted to savor some good tasting stuff so they decided to open this business. It's located in a nearby mall (the Poughkeepsie Galleria) and I think we've got some plans in the works for doing some collaborative efforts over on Instagram. So, yes, I did manage to find a beverage booth at a marijuana festival. And I'm DAMN PROUD, OKAY.

Also, I did manage to run into Tuxedo Rolling Papers. They were a Czech company who was, naturally, giving out/selling rolling papers and wraps of all kinds. I was fairly intrigued by them because, honestly, not a whole lot of well known papers are made in the Czech Republic (and who can resist a paper made in the birthplace of pils beer, my favorite) so it was interesting to see them and what their product was about. Most papers are made in either Spain or France (or China) so it was cool to see an "alternative" paper from a rarer country. They ALSO managed to capture a video of an elusive Bacchus leaving the booth. I regret leaving the booth so soon because I didn't get the papers I wanted (they gave me king size slims instead of 1 1/4s that I like for my cigarettes) but if you want a video of yours truly lookin' like a real thicc snack in suspenders and golf pants, here you go:

Yes, I know the chub and tuck is a far more flattering look for us juicy boys but I refuse to do it, dammit. I REFUSE!

In Closing 

    Overall, I had a lot of fun at the event. If you're into the cannabis space, it really had quite a bit for just about anybody out there, even me. I consider myself cannabis-naive to the umpteeth degree so this was a whole lot of culture shock for me but I still had a grand old time. Sure, I didn't imbibe and instead watched the chaos unfold while drinking water and fanning myself next to one of the air conditioning vents for awhile but it was fun. These old bones could only hang out for about 3 hours (press was allowed in with VIP members at 12, with general admission entering at 1pm) so I was there from 12 - 3 pm. Let me tell you, it felt like I was in there a half hour. It really was a great time and I didn't get to see a third of the booths OR the food trucks outside (I MISSED YOU,EMPANADA MAMA). The retail price to get in for general admission was about $35 and the VIP (with goodie bag) was about $70 which I think were fair prices. You really got a lot of bang for your buck at the event and a good time to be had by all. There was some confusion at the very beginning as to how to enter the damn building but I was able to get in moderately quickly and get to a-reviewin'. It seems like it's a festival (festival I guess is the best way of putting it because it's not a trade show) that's starting to stretch it's legs and fully grow into the legalization of marijuana in NY but is having some growing pains. There wasn't a clear delineation between VIP getting in and Press getting in, things inside got very hectic at about 3pm when it became close to standing room only, and it was a labyrinthine effort to get out at the end because things weren't clearly marked. Those were the real downsides. But the upsides truly outweighed them. It was fun, it was funky, and everyone was there to have a good time. A far cry from the booze events I've been to which have often ended up with people throwing up in the bushes outside the venue after three hours on the sauce. Can't say I miss that aspect. Would I go again? Absolutely I'd go again and I'd recommend that, if you have the druthers and the cash, that you go too. I believe they do them every six months (spring and fall) so if you're ever in the Poughkeepsie area, I'd highly recommend attending if you can. It's fun, there's no boot and rally like booze events, and everyone is very, very chill. Dunno why everyone is so very chill but it's nice! Haha, I'm just kidding, I know exactly why, I'm not that much of an idiot. Usually. Okay, most days.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Bail Bond

It'd be pretty easy to assume that I am though. I don't Tweet much anymore. I haven't posted on here in a hot minute. But, despite life's best efforts, I'm still here. I flit and float around through the industry like the Ghost of Distilling Past. I inquire here and there. I email this and that. I am quietly recuperating, rebuilding, and reaffirming my life in the wings of the regal stage that is the alcohol industry. But, like a sleeping bear, it is wise to not poke me. And poke me someone has. Bear in mind (heh, pun), I have no-ill will for my fellow chroniclers of the Carousing Cup. I love them all and, frankly, they're all far smarter and far more educated than I. But I know what I think and what I believe in. And for this transgression, I will not stand.

Sku, of Sku's Recent Eats, shuttered his website on May 15th, 2017. I was sad to see him go as I truly enjoyed his work and admired his dedication to sifting through the absolutely chaotic morass that is the TTB filings. He managed to pry out a lot of interesting and, most of all, shocking labels for products coming down the pipeline. He still does it on his Twitter account, I believe. But little did I know did that whiskey weasel start writing for a major online (and physical) wine and spirits vendor, K&L Wines. And this little blasphemer, this unholy utterer of unfathomable unpleasantries...has recently posted on the K&L Spirits Journal a post so abhorrent to me that it shakes me to the core.

The heresy can be found here, though I am loathe to give exposure to a document that so clearly goes against the goodwill of the gods above us. But...I will brings up an interesting point. The Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897 was necessary for a time when you could huck just about anything into a bottle and call it whiskey. As long as it got you inebriated (I'd say drunk but that'd be glossing over the Jamaican Ginger / Jake "patent medicine"), most people didn't care...until they got sick. It's all fun and drinks until you get organophosphate poisoning and can't walk or your thyroid stops working due to iodine poisoning. So the Bottled-in-Bond Act made sense at the time to preserve the safety of the American population when they tipped back a shot or two. But now that we have the FDA and the TTB...Bottled In Bond doesn't make much sense to carry on.

Sku does make some good points on the antiquated requirements of Bottled-in-Bond. In case you didn't know, the legal definition of a bottled-in-bond whiskey is (taken from the TTB whisky webinar):
  • Composed only of the same class and type of spirits
  • Produced in the same distilling season by the same distiller at the same distillery
  • Must be stored in oak containers in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least 4 years
  • Unaltered from the original condition or character as required under 27 CFR 5.42(b)(3)(iv)
  • Reduced in proof only by the addition of water to not less than 100 proof
  • Label must identify the distillery DSP number where distilled and if different must state where bottled
  • Must be bottled at 100 proof
It's true that all distilleries have to be bonded now so that's an antiquated portion. The "same class/type of spirit" is well regulated these days as well. And the proof, these days, seems relatively arbitrary (at least from my research). But the rest of it...the rest of it is still pretty useful. Let's break it down.

"Produced in the same distilling season by the same distiller at the same distillery"

This one is pretty important and ties in with the 4 year requirement as well. In distilling, especially small distillers, you have a decent stock of whiskey in different states of readiness. Sometimes this varies because of the barrels its stored in (a 5 gallon will have more "whiskey" flavor than a 52 gallon at 6 months), heat and humidity fluctuations, warehousing style, and barrel rotation. Every bottle you pick up at a store that doesn't specifically state "single barrel" on it is a blend of whiskies that fit the overarching flavor profile of that specific brand of whiskey. Bar. None. The age statement on a bottle is the YOUNGEST whiskey in it so your 12 year old may have 21 year old whiskey in it that helps round out the flavor. But with the industry trend of removing the age statement from bottlings...then there is no stopgap ensuring what you're getting is an aged product. It might be a 52 gallon barrel that's sat for two years with a dozen or so 5, 10, or 15 gallon barrels added in that have been in the warehouse for only six months. So you'd be buying a whiskey that, were it labeled with an age statement, would be something like "Bacchus' Reserve 6 month". But since age statements on bottles are disappearing faster than bottles of Pappy at a chef's conference, you'd never know that. By having this specification, it means that the whiskey in your bottle came from the same year, from the same TIME of year, from the same distillery. It's not a blend of whiskies with varying ages. What you see is what you get.

"Must be stored in oak containers in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least 4 years"First off, 4 years is fine for bourbon. I know that people always want older whiskies but 4 years is a serviceable bourbon. And the fact that you KNOW that its 4 years old is great. What it ALSO forces is "oak containers". This means barrels. Unless they've finally come out with the Whiskey Crate in which case barrel rolling competitions in Kentucky are gonna be...real interesting now. What this DOESN'T mean is: stainless steel tanks with oak chips, stainless steel tanks with oak spirals, stainless steel tanks with oak honeycombs, stainless steel tanks with staves in them, any other weird, new-fangled aging processes that don't involve barrels. So that means that every bottle of BIB is aged for four years at a distillery in a barrel. And...frankly...with the demand for whiskey still kinda soaring...that might come at a premium soon.

"Unaltered from the original condition of character as required under 27 CFR 5.42(b)(3)(iv)"
"27 CFR 5.42(b)(3)(iv): Unaltered from their original condition or character by the addition or subtraction of any substance other than by filtration, chill proofing, or other physical treatments (which do not involve the addition of any substance which will remain incorporated in the finished product or result in a change in class or type)"
This one is an interesting one because of how it could be argued. Let's say that a craft distillery puts out a bottled-in-bond bourbon. It's aged for four years in an oak barrel with new make from the same distillery, season, and year. At the very end, they start ultrasounding the barrel. Or they use any of the other patent medicines for making your whiskey taste old. That, in theory...could be altering it from the original condition of character by adding substances which remain incorporated in the finished product. Some of the processes out there (as I've discussed before) could potentially chemically alter the whiskey in a way that isn't seen in traditionally aging practices and, thus, add something above and beyond standard characteristics. I don't think anyone's fought it yet (mainly because I haven't seen a craft distillery put out a BIB offering) but the fact remains that it COULD be fought. So who knows?

"Label must identify the distillery DSP number where distilled and if different must state where bottled" 

Ahhhhh, this one is my favorite. With a massive trend towards outsourcing distillation to someone else, this is a breath of fresh air. Don't get me wrong here, I don't mind it. Well, I don't mind it as long as I'm told. I can taste an MGP aged product from a mile away these days but 9 out of 10 bottles have some long-winded story about how their grandpappy discovered this recipe after finding a magical bushel of corn and wheat that had fermented in the jungles of Peru and he brought the recipe back to turn into white lightning that he bootlegged through all of Alaska. I know it's bullshit. Most whiskey nerds know it's bullshit. But for people that are just getting into whiskey...who knows what they know? Do they know that they're paying ludicrous prices for whiskey made at a huge distillery in Illinois? Do they know that grandpappy never found a recipe because "grandpappy" was actually a meeting in a meeting room at an industrial distillery where they picked one of the four stock recipes and maybe changed it up a little? I don't know. But it's not fair to the consumer to hide behind a facade of nostalgia, Americana, and lies. I'd prefer to see distiller DSPs on bottles rather than back-country wisdom and the verbal equivalent to the smell of hot rod fumes
As you may have been able to guess from my barely coherent litany, I'm all for keeping Bottled In Bond. Sure, I don't want to part with my Old Grand Dad or my J.W. Dant or any of the other table bourbons that have been mentioned. But it's also something that I think craft distilleries should take heed of and add to their roster. The craft distilling industry, even though it has been going strong for so long and has a lot of damn good stuff coming out of it, is still very much where whiskey was in the late 19th century. A lot of the whiskey is young, is tampered with, is of unknown providence. For every good, solid distiller out there making quality product there's a hundred hucksters trying to sell America a liquid fairy tale. There's no mandatory aging period for any whiskey that isn't straight or bottled-in-bond. There isn't any laws demanding that the source of whiskey be revealed to the consumers. There's nothing on the books preventing people from snake oil aging spirits and selling them as vintage bourbon. None of the marketing lynch-pins like "small batch" or "reserve" have any legal definitions or demands on the spirit in the bottle. But a craft distillery that puts out a bottled-in-bond product...that's a way to earn trust. It's a way to say to the consumer that this bottle isn't bullshit; what you see is what you get and you can read it right on the back without any flowery prose to spit-shine it. It's a way to protect the consumer, just like the Bottled-In-Bond Act was from the get-go. Only this time, instead of tobacco juice, or iodine, prune juice or "extracts", it's misinformation and obfuscation it will shield us from.

And I'd like that shield.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Loss of Advocacy

"Of all men’s miseries the bitterest is this: to know so much and to have control over nothing."- Herodotus, The Histories
There are moments of helplessness in my life that I have become accustomed to; fleeting but poignant instances where I can only watch as the storm before me finally makes landfall. It is my personal bugbear the past few years. I don't say this as a preface solely to garner pity in order to balance out the fact that I never write on this damnable website. I say it because, for once...for one beautiful, blissful second, there is something I can do, no matter the personal cost.

I have been smoking cigars since 2005 and reading about them for as long. Back when I started, the vast array of information pertaining to cigars was not housed neatly on servers. It was not accessible with a quick click. You got your information from magazines and the hushed whispers of store owners who knew more than you did. There weren't many magazines, either. There was Tobacconist magazine, which you could only find at a few cigar stores...and there was Cigar Aficionado.

At the time, Cigar Aficionado was...pretty good, although that may be the rose-tinted glasses. It had full page articles on cigar regions or manufacturers, discussion of trends, and the eponymous ratings everyone was so delighted to slap on any promotional literature they put out. But, as the years passed, it started to slip. The golf section went from a small page in the back to a feature. The ads for watches costing a years worth of my tuition became larger and more frequent. But most telling of all...was the cover. Older copies of Cigar Aficionado prominently displayed it's logo in large font proclaiming, to those that picked up the tome: "This is about cigars and you'll be damned if you think otherwise." But gradually...the word "Cigar" got smaller. And smaller. And the word "Aficionado" got bigger. And bigger. This is what Cigar Aficionado looked like in 1996.

This is what it looked like in 2006:

And this is what it looks like now.

By 2026, I fully expect it to look something like this:

You can even see, based on the stories featured on the cover, the dramatic shift of Cigar Aficionado's focus from the cigars themselves to the "lifestyle" that comes with it. In 1996, the big focus was famous people who smoked cigars, reviews of maduro cigars, and the latest Cuban crop. In 2016, the biggest stories are golf, Vegas vacations, and an interview with an actor.

It broke my heart to watch Cigar Aficionado change and by 2012, I just stopped buying it. It had no information in it that I didn't already know by the time it came to print and I had to stop playing golf back in 2004 when I had my spine fused from T2 to L1. I was fresh out of college, having worked only six months, and was getting ready to have my 29th surgery so the $20,000 Rolex watches they were trying to peddle were a pipe dream of the highest order. And by that time, other magazines had come out. Cigar Press was around, even if it meant I had to drive to Albany to get it. European Cigar Cult Journal was beginning to be stocked by the local Barnes and Noble. And Cigar Snob was beginning to hit it's stride in terms of writing. I was never crazy about having models plastered all over it but it was better than ads for Mercedes-Benz. So I dropped it and never looked back.

Well...I did. Sort of.

In 2010, M. Shanken Communications purchased Malt Advocate, a magazine devoted to whiskey and whisky and however you want to spell it. It was a fantastic magazine, helmed by John Hansell with Lew Bryson, who ended up becoming a good friend, doing some serious editing and journalism work. It was a smart magazine in every sense of the word. The articles delved into the technical aspects of distilling that whiskey nerds like myself enjoyed while also not overloading the reader. The reviews were some damn crisp copy, even if I never could agree with any of the tasters. And the ads...were about whiskey, just whiskey, and they were tasteful and muted. It was a daisy of a magazine and I loved it immensely. So watching Shanken purchase it had me quaking in my boots. M. Shanken Communications helmed Wine Spectator and...

Cigar Aficionado

At first, things were okay. They changed the name from Malt Advocate to Whisky Advocate which I actually agreed with. They didn't touch beer so "Malt Advocate" was kind of a misnomer. And the writing was still snappy and fresh. But by about 2012...the ads began. It was slow at first, almost imperceptible. The ad-space began to get larger but I didn't mind, as long as the writing was there. Then, the ads changed. The first cigar ads began and my stomach clenched. But it was just one ad, it will be fine! Then more came.

More and more ads came that weren't focused on whiskey. It was all cigars at first which I could tolerate because at least it was in my wheelhouse. But the quality of the articles began to landslide. Solid articles of technical interest fell by the wayside, replaced by fluffier pieces about travel and hotels. It was related to whiskey, sure, but it wasn't ABOUT whiskey.

And then Lew left.

I feel like there is no shortage of coincidence that his name rhymed with "glue" because it seemed like he was the only one keeping it together. After his departure, the floodgates opened. The last issue I flipped through, the Winter 2016 Ireland issue, had a two page spread about golf in Ireland. The thing I had loved was gone and my money with it. I didn't renew my subscription.

Yesterday on Facebook, John Hansell stated he was stepping down, after 25 years, as the Publisher and Editor of Whisky Advocate effective at the end of April. I knew this writing was on the wall but it hurt to see it. But what hurt even more was the release from M. Shanken Communications, entitled "Exciting Changes Are Afoot for Whisky Advocate." Not only did it state that M. Shanken will be taking over as editor for Whisky Advocate but also (in regards to avenues of growth):

"As everyone knows, M. Shanken is fortunate to have two of the world’s leading luxury lifestyle magazines, Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado. We understand luxury consumers in these segments. Our vision is to build a third franchise with our deep understanding of spirits and lifestyles. We’ll develop Whisky Advocate as a lifestyle magazine rooted around spirits in general and whisky in particular. That will mean more fine-tuning of the editorial content. We’ve recently added to our stable of gifted writers, aiming at a wider consumer audience." - Marvin Shanken, 2017

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby "the loneliest moment in someone's life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly". I can agree with that sentiment. Over the past three years, I have stared into the yawning abyss of impossible choices and floundering moments as the full brunt of life's fury has crashed upon the rocks of my soul. In every instance, the choices I've had to make and the things I've had to deal with were inevitable and unavoidable. I could just nod my head in dumb acquiescence and hope that it wouldn't tear me apart. But none of it has torn me apart quite like this, despite the fact that I CAN do something. To see a thing you love die is painful. But to think it would be a magazine is boggling compared to what I've been having to deal with.

I wish them luck in their endeavors, truly. The writers at Whisky Advocate are some of the best voices in the industry and I am sincerely glad that they are getting a wider audience who will listen to them extol the virtues of whiskey.

But I will not be one of them.